Atmospheric trace gases support primary production in Antarctic desert surface soil

Nature
Mukan JiBelinda C Ferrari

Abstract

Cultivation-independent surveys have shown that the desert soils of Antarctica harbour surprisingly rich microbial communities. Given that phototroph abundance varies across these Antarctic soils, an enduring question is what supports life in those communities with low photosynthetic capacity. Here we provide evidence that atmospheric trace gases are the primary energy sources of two Antarctic surface soil communities. We reconstructed 23 draft genomes from metagenomic reads, including genomes from the candidate bacterial phyla WPS-2 and AD3. The dominant community members encoded and expressed high-affinity hydrogenases, carbon monoxide dehydrogenases, and a RuBisCO lineage known to support chemosynthetic carbon fixation. Soil microcosms aerobically scavenged atmospheric H2 and CO at rates sufficient to sustain their theoretical maintenance energy and mediated substantial levels of chemosynthetic but not photosynthetic CO2 fixation. We propose that atmospheric H2, CO2 and CO provide dependable sources of energy and carbon to support these communities, which suggests that atmospheric energy sources can provide an alternative basis for ecosystem function to solar or geological energy sources. Although more extensive sampling is ...Continue Reading

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