Chemolithotrophy in the continental deep subsurface: Sanford underground research facility (SURF), USA

Magdalena R. Osburn*, Douglas E. LaRowe, Lily M. Momper, Jan P. Amend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations

Abstract

The deep subsurface is an enormous repository of microbial life. However, the metabolic capabilities of these microorganisms and the degree to which they are dependent on surface processes are largely unknown. Due to the logistical difficulty of sampling and inherent heterogeneity, the microbial populations of the terrestrial subsurface are poorly characterized. In an effort to better understand the biogeochemistry of deep terrestrial habitats, we evaluate the energetic yield of chemolithotrophic metabolisms and microbial diversity in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in the former Homestake Gold Mine, SD, USA. Geochemical data, energetic modeling, and DNA sequencing were combined with principle component analysis to describe this deep (down to 8100 ft below surface), terrestrial environment. SURF provides access into an iron-rich Paleoproterozoic metasedimentary deposit that contains deeply circulating groundwater. Geochemical analyses of subsurface fluids reveal enormous geochemical diversity ranging widely in salinity, oxidation state (ORP 330 to -328 mV), and concentrations of redox sensitive species (e.g., Fe2+ from near 0 to 6.2 mg/L and σ S2- from 7 to 2778μg/L). As a direct result of this compositional buffet, Gibbs energy calculations reveal an abundance of energy for microorganisms from the oxidation of sulfur, iron, nitrogen, methane, and manganese. Pyrotag DNA sequencing reveals diverse communities of chemolithoautotrophs, thermophiles, aerobic and anaerobic heterotrophs, and numerous uncultivated clades. Extrapolated across the mine footprint, these data suggest a complex spatial mosaic of subsurface primary productivity that is in good agreement with predicted energy yields. Notably, we report Gibbs energy normalized both per mole of reaction and per kg fluid (energy density) and find the later to be more consistent with observed physiologies and environmental conditions. Further application of this approach will significantly expand our understanding of the deep terrestrial biosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number610
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Volume5
Issue numberNOV
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Biogeochemistry
  • Chemolithotrophy
  • Deep subsurface biosphere
  • Energetics
  • SURF

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)

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