Molecular Evidence for an Active Microbial Methane Cycle in Subsurface Serpentinite-Hosted Groundwaters in the Samail Ophiolite, Oman

Abstract

Serpentinization can generate highly reduced fluids replete with hydrogen (H2) and methane (CH4), potent reductants capable of driving microbial methanogenesis and methanotrophy, respectively. However, CH4 in serpentinized waters is thought to be primarily abiogenic, raising key questions about the relative importance of methanogens and methanotrophs in the production and consumption of CH4 in these systems. Herein, we apply molecular approaches to examine the functional capability and activity of microbial CH4 cycling in serpentinization-impacted subsurface waters intersecting multiple rock and water types within the Samail Ophiolite of Oman. Abundant 16S rRNA genes and transcripts affiliated with the methanogenic genus Methanobacterium were recovered from the most alkaline (pH, >10), H2- and CH4-rich subsurface waters. Additionally, 16S rRNA genes and transcripts associated with the aerobic methanotrophic genus Methylococcus were detected in wells that spanned varied fluid geochemistry. Metagenomic sequencing yielded genes encoding homologs of proteins involved in the hydrogenotrophic pathway of microbial CH4 production and in microbial CH4 oxidation. Transcripts of several key genes encoding methanogenesis/methanotrophy enzymes were identified, predominantly in communities from the most hyperalkaline waters. These results indicate active methanogenic and methanotrophic populations in waters with hyperalkaline pH in the Samail Ophiolite, thereby supporting a role for biological CH4 cycling in aquifers that undergo low-temperature serpentinization.

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Citation

Kraus, E. A., Nothaft, D., Stamps, B. W., Rempfert, K. R., Ellison, E. T., Matter, J. M., ... & Spear, J. R. (2021). Molecular evidence for an active microbial methane cycle in subsurface serpentinite-hosted groundwaters in the Samail Ophiolite, Oman. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 87(2), e02068-20.
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