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Interspecies interactions mediated by conductive minerals in the sediments of the ferruginous Lake La Cruz, Spain

By Amelia-Elena Rotaru, Nicole R. Posth, Carolin R. Löscher, Maria R. Miracle, Eduardo Vicente, Raymond P. Cox, Jennifer Thompson, Simon W. Poulton, Bo Thamdrup

Posted 10 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/366542 (published DOI: 10.23818/limn.38.10)

Lake La Cruz is considered a biogeochemical analogue to early Earth marine environments because its water column is depleted in sulfate, but rich in methane and iron, similar to conditions envisaged for much of the Precambrian. In this early Earth analogue environment, we show that conductive particles establish a tight metabolic coupling between electroactive microbial clades. We propose that mineral-based syntrophy is of potential relevance for the evolution of Earth's earliest complex life forms. We show that the anoxic sediment of Lake La Cruz, which is rich in biogeochemically reactive iron minerals, harbors known electroactive species such as Geobacter and Methanothrix, in addition to other groups which have not been previously associated with an electroactive lifestyle. Slurry incubations on various substrates in the presence of conductive particles showed significant methanogenic activity, whereas incubations with non-conductive glass beads resulted in low methanogenic rates similar to slurries without added particles. In the absence of conductive particles, all tested substrates were metabolized to acetate, which accumulated to ~10 mM. Similar to a previous study on iron-rich Baltic Sea sediments, we observed that conductive mineral additions to La Cruz slurries enabled acetate oxidation, thus preventing acetate accumulation. Acetate oxidation coupled to high methanogenic activity was only maintained in successive mud-free enrichments when these were amended with conductive minerals. In serial mud-free transfers, conductive particles conserved a consortium of Youngiibacter-Methanothrix, whereas Youngiibacter spp. died off in the absence of conductive particles. In contrast, mud-free enrichments without conductive particles ceased any metabolic activity during the second transfers. Syntrophic consortia from this early Earth analogue environment only survived in the presence of conductive particles. Mineral-mediated syntrophy could be one of the earliest evolutionary interspecies associations. Conductive minerals might have fueled metabolic exchange between cells via intercellular electron transfer prompting tight cell-to-cell associations and possibly eukaryogenesis.

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