Collaborative Research: ANT LIA: Connecting Metagenome Potential to Microbial Function: Investigating Microbial Degradation of Complex Organic Matter Antarctic Benthic Sediments
Organic Matter Degradation in Antarctic Benthic Sediments
Microbes in Antarctic surface marine sediments have an important role in degrading organic matter and releasing nutrients to the ocean. Organic matter degradation is at the center of the carbon cycle in the ocean, providing valuable information on nutrient recycling, food availability to animals and carbon dioxide release to the atmosphere. The functionality of these microbes has been inferred by their genomics, however these methods only address the possible function, not their actual rates. In this project the PIs plan to combine genomics methods with cellular estimates of enzyme abundance and activity as a way to determine the rates of carbon degradation. This project aims to sample in several regions of Antarctica to provide a large-scale picture of the processes under study and understand the importance of microbial community composition and environmental factors, such as primary productivity, have on microbial activity. The proposed work will combine research tools such as metagenomics, meta-transcriptomics, and metabolomics coupled with chemical data and enzyme assays to establish degradation of organic matter in Antarctic sediments. This project benefits NSFs goals of understanding the adaptation of Antarctic organisms to the cold and isolated environment, critical to predict effects of climate change to polar organisms, as well as contribute to our knowledge of how Antarctic organisms have adapted to this environment. Society will benefit from this project by education of 2 graduate students, undergraduates and K-12 students as well as increase public literacy through short videos production shared in YouTube. The PIs propose to advance understanding of polar microbial community function, by measuring enzyme and gene function of complex organic matter degradation in several ocean regions, providing a circum-Antarctic description of sediment processes. Two hypotheses are proposed. The first hypothesis states that many genes for the degradation of complex organic matter will be shared in sediments throughout a sampling transect and that where variations in gene content occur, it will reflect differences in the quantity and quality of organic matter, not regional variability. The second hypothesis states that a fraction of gene transcripts for organic matter degradation will not result in measurable enzyme activity due to post-translational modification or rapid degradation of the enzymes. The PIs will analyze sediment cores already collected in a 2020 cruise to the western Antarctic Peninsula with the additional request of participating in a cruise in 2023 to East Antarctica. The PIs will analyze sediments for metagenomics, meta-transcriptomics, and metabolomics coupled with geochemical data and enzyme assays to establish microbial degradation of complex organic matter in Antarctic sediments. Organic carbon concentrations and content in sediments will be measured with δ13C, δ15N, TOC porewater fluorescence in bulk organic carbon. Combined with determination of geographical variability as well as dependence on carbon sources, results from this study could provide the basis for new hypotheses on how climate variability, with increased water temperature, affects geochemistry in the Southern Ocean.
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