Spatially resolved correlative microscopy and microbial identification reveal dynamic depth‐ and mineral‐dependent anabolic activity in salt marsh sediment


Coastal salt marshes are key sites of biogeochemical cycling and ideal systems in which to investigate the community structure of complex microbial communities. Here, we clarify structural–functional relationships among microorganisms and their mineralogical environment, revealing previously undescribed metabolic activity patterns and precise spatial arrangements within salt marsh sediment. Following 3.7-day in situ incubations with a non-canonical amino acid that was incorporated into new biomass, samples were resinembedded and analysed by correlative fluorescence and electron microscopy to map the microscale arrangements of anabolically active and inactive organisms alongside mineral grains. Parallel sediment samples were examined by fluorescence-activated cell sorting and 16S rRNA gene sequencing to link anabolic activity to taxonomic identity. Both approaches demonstrated a rapid decline in the proportion of anabolically active cells with depth into salt marsh sediment, from 60% in the top centimetre to 9.4%– 22.4% between 2 and 10 cm. From the top to the bottom, the most prominent active community members shifted from sulfur cycling phototrophic consortia, to putative sulfate-reducing bacteria likely oxidizing organic compounds, to fermentative lineages. Correlative microscopy revealed more abundant (and more anabolically active) organisms around non-quartz minerals including rutile, orthoclase and plagioclase. Microbe–mineral relationships appear to be dynamic and context-dependent arbiters of biogeochemical cycling.




Marlow, J., Spietz, R., Kim, K. Y., Ellisman, M., Girguis, P., & Hatzenpichler, R. (2021). Spatially resolved correlative microscopy and microbial identification reveal dynamic depth‐and mineral‐dependent anabolic activity in salt marsh sediment. Environmental microbiology, 23(8), 4756-4777.
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