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Microbial Dark Matter: Unusual intervening sequences in 16S rRNA genes of candidate phyla from the deep subsurface

  • Author(s): Jarett, Jessica
  • Stepanauskas, Ramunas
  • Kieft, Thomas
  • Onstott, Tullis
  • Woyke, Tanja
  • et al.
Abstract

The Microbial Dark Matter project has sequenced genomes from over 200 single cells from candidate phyla, greatly expanding our knowledge of the ecology, inferred metabolism, and evolution of these widely distributed, yet poorly understood lineages. The second phase of this project aims to sequence an additional 800 single cells from known as well as potentially novel candidate phyla derived from a variety of environments. In order to identify whole genome amplified single cells, screening based on phylogenetic placement of 16S rRNA gene sequences is being conducted. Briefly, derived 16S rRNA gene sequences are aligned to a custom version of the Greengenes reference database and added to a reference tree in ARB using parsimony. In multiple samples from deep subsurface habitats but not from other habitats, a large number of sequences proved difficult to align and therefore to place in the tree. Based on comparisons to reference sequences and structural alignments using SSU-ALIGN, many of these ?difficult? sequences appear to originate from candidate phyla, and contain intervening sequences (IVSs) within the 16S rRNA genes. These IVSs are short (39 - 79 nt) and do not appear to be self-splicing or to contain open reading frames. IVSs were found in the loop regions of stem-loop structures in several different taxonomic groups. Phylogenetic placement of sequences is strongly affected by IVSs; two out of three groups investigated were classified as different phyla after their removal. Based on data from samples screened in this project, IVSs appear to be more common in microbes occurring in deep subsurface habitats, although the reasons for this remain elusive.

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