Permeable sediments are common across continental shelves and are critical contributors to marine biogeochemical cycling. Organic matter in permeable sediments is dominated by microalgae, which as eukaryotes have different anaerobic metabolic pathways to bacteria and archaea. Here we present analyses of flow-through reactor experiments showing that dissolved inorganic carbon is produced predominantly as a result of anaerobic eukaryotic metabolic activity. In our experiments, anaerobic production of dissolved inorganic carbon was consistently accompanied by large dissolved H2 production rates, suggesting the presence of fermentation. The production of both dissolved inorganic carbon and H2 persisted following administration of broad spectrum bactericidal antibiotics, but ceased following treatment with metronidazole. Metronidazole inhibits the ferredoxin/hydrogenase pathway of fermentative eukaryotic H2 production, suggesting that pathway as the source of H2 and dissolved inorganic carbon production. Metabolomic analysis showed large increases in lipid production at the onset of anoxia, consistent with documented pathways of anoxic dark fermentation in microalgae. Cell counts revealed a predominance of microalgae in the sediments. H2 production was observed in dark anoxic cultures of diatoms (Fragilariopsis sp.) and a chlorophyte (Pyramimonas) isolated from the study site, substantiating the hypothesis that microalgae undertake fermentation. We conclude that microalgal dark fermentation could be an important energy-conserving pathway in permeable sediments.
Bourke, M. F., Marriott, P. J., Glud, R. N., Hasler-Sheetal, H., Kamalanathan, M., Beardall, J., ... Cook, P. L. M. (2016). Metabolism in anoxic permeable sediments is dominated by eukaryotic dark fermentation. Nature Geoscience, 10(1), 30-35. https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2843