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Microbial Sulfate Reduction Potential in Coal-Bearing Sediments Down to ~2.5 km below the Seafloor off Shimokita Peninsula, Japan

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      Sulfate reduction is the predominant anaerobic microbial process of organic matter mineralization in marine sediments, with recent studies revealing that sulfate reduction not only occurs in sulfate-rich sediments, but even extends to deeper, methanogenic sediments at very low background concentrations of sulfate. Using samples retrieved off the Shimokita Peninsula, Japan, during the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP) Expedition 337, we measured potential sulfate reduction rates by slurry incubations with 35S-labeled sulfate in deep methanogenic sediments between 1276.75 and 2456.75 meters below the seafloor. Potential sulfate reduction rates were generally extremely low (mostly below 0.1 pmol cm −3 d −1) but showed elevated values (up to 1.8 pmol cm −3 d −1) in a coal-bearing interval (Unit III). A measured increase in hydrogenase activity in the coal-bearing horizons coincided with this local increase in potential sulfate reduction rates. This paired enzymatic response suggests that hydrogen is a potentially important electron donor for sulfate reduction in the deep coalbed biosphere. By contrast, no stimulation of sulfate reduction rates was observed in treatments where methane was added as an electron donor. In the deep coalbeds, small amounts of sulfate might be provided by a cryptic sulfur cycle. The isotopically very heavy pyrites (δ 34S = +43‰) found in this horizon is consistent with its formation via microbial sulfate reduction that has been continuously utilizing a small, increasingly 34S-enriched sulfate reservoir over geologic time scales. Although our results do not represent in-situ activity, and the sulfate reducers might only have persisted in a dormant, spore-like state, our findings show that organisms capable of sulfate reduction have survived in deep methanogenic sediments over more than 20 Ma. This highlights the ability of sulfate-reducers to persist over geological timespans even in sulfate-depleted environments. Our study moreover represents the deepest evidence of a potential for sulfate reduction in marine sediments to date.

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      Most cited references 92

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            Author and article information

            1Department of Biosciences, Center for Geomicrobiology, Aarhus University Aarhus, Denmark
            2MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, University of Bremen Bremen, Germany
            3Boone Pickens School of Geology, Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK, USA
            4Department of Earth Sciences, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN, USA
            5Kochi Institute for Core Sample Research, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Kochi, Japan
            6Research and Development Center for Ocean Drilling Science, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Yokohama, Japan
            7Research and Development Center for Submarine Resources, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Yokosuka, Japan
            Author notes

            Edited by: Jan Amend, University of Southern California, USA

            Reviewed by: William D. Orsi, Lüdwig-Maximilians University of Munich, Germany; Aude Picard, Harvard University, USA

            *Correspondence: Clemens Glombitza clemens.glombitza@

            This article was submitted to Extreme Microbiology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Microbiology

            Front Microbiol
            Front Microbiol
            Front. Microbiol.
            Frontiers in Microbiology
            Frontiers Media S.A.
            05 October 2016
            : 7
            5051215 10.3389/fmicb.2016.01576
            Copyright © 2016 Glombitza, Adhikari, Riedinger, Gilhooly, Hinrichs and Inagaki.

            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

            Figures: 5, Tables: 1, Equations: 2, References: 98, Pages: 15, Words: 12067
            Funded by: Seventh Framework Programme 10.13039/501100004963
            Award ID: 327675
            Award ID: 294200
            Funded by: Consortium for Ocean Leadership 10.13039/100005198
            Funded by: Danmarks Grundforskningsfond 10.13039/501100001732
            Award ID: DNRF104
            Funded by: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft 10.13039/501100001659
            Funded by: Japan Society for the Promotion of Science 10.13039/501100001691
            Award ID: Grant-in-Aid for Science Research- no. 26251041
            Funded by: IODP Germany
            Funded by: JSPS Funding Program for Next Generation World-Leading Researchers
            Award ID: GR102
            Funded by: Strategic Fund for Strengthening Leading-Edge Research and Development
            Original Research


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