Shifts in Archaeal Communities Associated with Lithological and Geochemical Variations in Subsurface Cretaceous Rock


Subsurface microbial community structure in relation to geochemical gradients and lithology was investigated using a combination of molecular phylogenetic and geochemical analyses. Discreet groundwater and substratum samples were obtained from depths ranging from 182 to 190 m beneath the surface at approximately 10-cm intervals using a multilevel sampler (MLS) that straddled Cretaceous shale and sandstone formations at a site in the southern San Juan Basin in New Mexico. DNA and RNA were extracted directly from quartzite sand substratum loaded into individual cells of the MLS and colonized in situ. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-mediated T-RFLP analysis of archaeal rRNA genes (rDNA) in conjunction with partial sequencing analysis of archaeal rDNA libraries and quantitative RNA hybridization with oligonucleotide probes were used to probe community structure and function. Although total microbial populations remained relatively constant over the entire depth interval sampled, significant shifts in archaeal populations, predominantly methanogens, were observed. These shifts coincided with the geochemical transition from relatively high methane (26 mM), low sulphate ( < 3 mg l-1) conditions in the region adjacent to the organic matter-rich shale to relatively low-methane ( < 0.5 mM), high-sulphate (48 mg l-1) conditions in the organic-poor sandstone beneath the shale. These results indicated that active, phylogenetically diverse archaeal communities were present in the subsurface Cretaceous rock environment at this site and that major archaeal clades shifted dramatically over scales of tens of centimetres, corresponding to changes in the lithology and geochemical gradients.


Biological Sciences

Keywords and Phrases

Archaea; DNA, Archaeal; DNA, Bacterial; DNA, Ribosomal; Environmental Microbiology; Geologic Sediments; Phylogeny; Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1462-2912; 1462-2920

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


File Type





© 2003 Wiley-Blackwell, All rights reserved.

Publication Date

01 Apr 2003

PubMed ID