Microbial Metabolic Redundancy Is a Key Mechanism in a Sulfur-Rich Glacial Ecosystem


Biological sulfur cycling in polar, low-temperature ecosystems is an understudied phenomenon in part due to difficulty of access and the dynamic nature of glacial environments. One such environment where sulfur cycling is known to play an important role in microbial metabolisms is located at Borup Fiord Pass (BFP) in the Canadian High Arctic. Here, transient springs emerge from ice near the terminus of a glacier, creating a large area of proglacial aufeis (spring-derived ice) that is often covered in bright yellow/white sulfur, sulfate, and carbonate mineral precipitates accompanied by a strong odor of hydrogen sulfide. Metagenomic sequencing of samples from multiple sites and of various sample types across the BFP glacial system produced 31 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) that were queried for sulfur, nitrogen, and carbon cycling/metabolism genes. An abundance of sulfur cycling genes was widespread across the isolated MAGs and sample metagenomes taxonomically associated with the bacterial classes Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria and Campylobacteria (formerly the Epsilonproteobacteria). This corroborates previous research from BFP implicating Campylobacteria as the primary class responsible for sulfur oxidation; however, data reported here suggested putative sulfur oxidation by organisms in both the alphaproteobacterial and gammaproteobacterial classes that was not predicted by previous work. These findings indicate that in low-temperature, sulfur-based environments, functional redundancy may be a key mechanism that microorganisms use to enable coexistence whenever energy is limited and/or focused by redox chemistry.

Chris Trivedi
Chris Trivedi
Bioinformatician and Microbial Ecologist

Bioinformatician and data scientist with a passion for all things environmental microbiology.