Defining boundaries for the distribution of microbial communities beneath the sediment-buried, hydrothermally active seafloor

Katsunori Yanagawa, Akira Ijiri, Anja Breuker, Sanae Sakai, Youko Miyoshi, Shinsuke Kawagucci, Takuroh Noguchi, Miho Hirai, Axel Schippers, Jun Ichiro Ishibashi, Yoshihiro Takaki, Michinari Sunamura, Tetsuro Urabe, Takuro Nunoura, Ken Takai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Subseafloor microbes beneath active hydrothermal vents are thought to live near the upper temperature limit for life on Earth. We drilled and cored the Iheya North hydrothermal field in the Mid-Okinawa Trough, and examined the phylogenetic compositions and the products of metabolic functions of sub-vent microbial communities. We detected microbial cells, metabolic activities and molecular signatures only in the shallow sediments down to 15.8 m below the seafloor at a moderately distant drilling site from the active hydrothermal vents (450 m). At the drilling site, the profiles of methane and sulfate concentrations and the δ 13 C and δD isotopic compositions of methane suggested the laterally flowing hydrothermal fluids and the in situ microbial anaerobic methane oxidation. In situ measurements during the drilling constrain the current bottom temperature of the microbially habitable zone to ∼45 °C. However, in the past, higher temperatures of 106-198 °C were possible at the depth, as estimated from geochemical thermometry on hydrothermally altered clay minerals. The 16S rRNA gene phylotypes found in the deepest habitable zone are related to those of thermophiles, although sequences typical of known hyperthermophilic microbes were absent from the entire core. Overall our results shed new light on the distribution and composition of the boundary microbial community close to the high-temperature limit for habitability in the subseafloor environment of a hydrothermal field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-542
Number of pages14
JournalISME Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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