Lipid analysis of CO2-rich subsurface aquifers suggests an autotrophy-based deep biosphere with lysolipids enriched in CPR bacteria.
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-020-0624-4
Sediment-hosted CO2-rich aquifers deep below the Colorado Plateau (USA) contain a remarkable diversity of uncultivated microorganisms, including Candidate Phyla Radiation (CPR) bacteria that are putative symbionts unable to synthesize membrane lipids. The origin of organic carbon in these ecosystems is unknown and the source of CPR membrane lipids remains elusive. We collected cells from deep groundwater brought to the surface by eruptions of Crystal Geyser, sequenced the community, and analyzed the whole community lipidome over time. Characteristic stable carbon isotopic compositions of microbial lipids suggest that bacterial and archaeal CO2 fixation ongoing in the deep subsurface provides organic carbon for the complex communities that reside there. Coupled lipidomic-metagenomic analysis indicates that CPR bacteria lack complete lipid biosynthesis pathways but still possess regular lipid membranes. These lipids may therefore originate from other community members, which also adapt to high in situ pressure by increasing fatty acid unsaturation. An unusually high abundance of lysolipids attributed to CPR bacteria may represent an adaptation to membrane curvature stress induced by their small cell sizes. Our findings provide new insights into the carbon cycle in the deep subsurface and suggest the redistribution of lipids into putative symbionts within this community.