Geological processes mediate a microbial dispersal loop in the deep biosphere

Daniel A. Gittins, Pierre Arnaud Desiage, Natasha Morrison, Jayne E. Rattray, Srijak Bhatnagar, Anirban Chakraborty, Jackie Zorz, Carmen Li, Oliver Horanszky, Margaret A. Cramm, Francesco Bisiach, Robbie Bennett, Jamie Webb, Adam MacDonald, Martin Fowler, D. Calvin Campbell, Casey R.J. Hubert

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


The deep biosphere is the largest microbial habitat on Earth and features abundant bacterial endospores. Whereas dormancy and survival at theoretical energy minima are hallmarks of microbial physiology in the subsurface, ecological processes such as dispersal and selection in the deep biosphere remain poorly understood. We investigated the biogeography of dispersing bacteria in the deep sea where upward hydrocarbon seepage was confirmed by acoustic imagery and geochemistry. Thermophilic endospores in the permanently cold seabed correlated with underlying seep conduits reveal geofluid-facilitated cell migration pathways originating in deep petroleum-bearing sediments. Endospore genomes highlight adaptations to life in anoxic petroleum systems and bear close resemblance to oil reservoir microbiomes globally. Upon transport out of the subsurface, viable thermophilic endospores reenter the geosphere by sediment burial, enabling germination and environmental selection at depth where new petroleum systems establish. This microbial dispersal loop circulates living biomass in and out of the deep biosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereabn3485
JournalScience Advances
Issue number34
Publication statusPublished - Aug. 2022


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