Sulfur cycling and host-virus interactions in Aquificales-dominated biofilms from Yellowstone’s hottest ecosystems


Modern linkages among magmatic, geochemical, and geobiological processes provide clues about the importance of thermophiles in the origin of biogeochemical cycles. The aim of this study was to identify the primary chemoautotrophs and host–virus interactions involved in microbial colonization and biogeochemical cycling at sublacustrine, vapor-dominated vents that represent the hottest measured ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park (~140 °C). Filamentous microbial communities exposed to extreme thermal and geochemical gradients were sampled using a remotely operated vehicle and subjected to random metagenome sequencing and microscopic analyses. Sulfurihydrogenibium (phylum Aquificae) was the predominant lineage (up to 84% relative abundance) detected at vents that discharged high levels of dissolved H2, H2S, and CO2. Metabolic analyses indicated carbon fixation by Sulfurihydrogenibium spp. was powered by the oxidation of reduced sulfur and H2, which provides organic carbon for heterotrophic community members. Highly variable Sulfurihydrogenibium genomes suggested the importance of intra-population diversity under extreme environmental and viral pressures. Numerous lytic viruses (primarily unclassified taxa) were associated with diverse archaea and bacteria in the vent community. Five circular dsDNA uncultivated virus genomes (UViGs) of ~40 kbp length were linked to the Sulfurihydrogenibium metagenome-assembled genome (MAG) by CRISPR spacer matches. Four UViGs contained consistent genome architecture and formed a monophyletic cluster with the recently proposed Pyrovirus genus within the Caudovirales. Sulfurihydrogenibium spp. also contained CRISPR arrays linked to plasmid DNA with genes for a novel type IV filament system and a highly expressed β-barrel porin. A diverse suite of transcribed secretion systems was consistent with direct microscopic analyses, which revealed an extensive extracellular matrix likely critical to community structure and function. We hypothesize these attributes are fundamental to the establishment and survival of microbial communities in highly turbulent, extreme-gradient environments.


© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to International Society for Microbial Ecology 2021


sulfer cycling, biofilms, Yellowstone, Yellowstone ecosystem


McKay, L.J., Nigro, O.D., Dlakić, M. et al. Sulfur cycling and host-virus interactions in Aquificales-dominated biofilms from Yellowstone’s hottest ecosystems. ISME J 16, 842–855 (2022).
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