Lignite coal burning seam in the remote Altai Mountains harbors a hydrogen-driven thermophilic microbial community

Kadnikov et al. (2018). Scientific Reports 8 (1)
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AbstractThermal ecosystems associated with underground coal combustion sites are rare and less studied than geothermal features. Here we analysed microbial communities of near-surface ground layer and bituminous substance in an open quarry heated by subsurface coal fire by metagenomic DNA sequencing. Taxonomic classification revealed dominance of only a few groups of Firmicutes. Near-complete genomes of three most abundant species, ‘Candidatus Carbobacillus altaicus’ AL32, Brockia lithotrophica AL31, and Hydrogenibacillus schlegelii AL33, were assembled. According to the genomic data, Ca. Carbobacillus altaicus AL32 is an aerobic heterotroph, while B. lithotrophica AL31 is a chemolithotrophic anaerobe assimilating CO2 via the Calvin cycle. H. schlegelii AL33 is an aerobe capable of both growth on organic compounds and carrying out CO2 fixation via the Calvin cycle. Phylogenetic analysis of the large subunit of RuBisCO of B. lithotrophica AL31 and H. schlegelii AL33 showed that it belongs to the type 1-E. All three Firmicutes species can gain energy from aerobic or anaerobic oxidation of molecular hydrogen, produced as a result of underground coal combustion along with other coal gases. We propose that thermophilic Firmicutes, whose spores can spread from their original geothermal habitats over long distances, are the first colonizers of this recently formed thermal ecosystem.
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