Mikayla A. Borton a , David W. Hoyt b , Simon Roux c , Rebecca A. Daly a , Susan A. Welch d , Carrie D. Nicora b , Samuel Purvine b , Elizabeth K. Eder b , Andrea J. Hanson e , Julie M. Sheets d , David M. Morgan d , Richard A. Wolfe a , Shikha Sharma f , Timothy R. Carr f , David R. Cole d , Paula J. Mouser e , Mary S. Lipton b , Michael J. Wilkins a , d , Kelly C. Wrighton a , 1
25 June 2018
Microorganisms persisting in hydraulically fractured shales must maintain osmotic balance in hypersaline fluids, gain energy in the absence of electron acceptors, and acquire carbon and nitrogen to synthesize cell building blocks. We provide evidence that that cofermentation of amino acids (Stickland reaction) meets all of these organismal needs, thus functioning as a keystone metabolism in enriched and natural microbial communities from hydraulically fractured shales. This amino acid-based metabolic network can be rationally designed to optimize biogenic methane yields and minimize undesirable chemistries in this engineered ecosystem. Our proposed ecological framework extends to the human gut and other protein-rich ecosystems, where the role of Stickland fermentations and their derived syntrophies play unrecognized roles in carbon and nitrogen turnover.
Hydraulic fracturing is one of the industrial processes behind the surging natural gas output in the United States. This technology inadvertently creates an engineered microbial ecosystem thousands of meters below Earth’s surface. Here, we used laboratory reactors to perform manipulations of persisting shale microbial communities that are currently not feasible in field scenarios. Metaproteomic and metabolite findings from the laboratory were then corroborated using regression-based modeling performed on metagenomic and metabolite data from more than 40 produced fluids from five hydraulically fractured shale wells. Collectively, our findings show that Halanaerobium, Geotoga, and Methanohalophilus strain abundances predict a significant fraction of nitrogen and carbon metabolites in the field. Our laboratory findings also exposed cryptic predatory, cooperative, and competitive interactions that impact microorganisms across fractured shales. Scaling these results from the laboratory to the field identified mechanisms underpinning biogeochemical reactions, yielding knowledge that can be harnessed to potentially increase energy yields and inform management practices in hydraulically fractured shales.