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Orsi, William D.; Morard, Raphaël; Milucka, Jana; Kucera, Michal; Vuillemin, Aurèle; Eitel, Michael and Wörheide, Gert ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6380-7421 (2020): Anaerobic metabolism of Foraminifera thriving below the seafloor. In: The ISME journal, Vol. 14: pp. 2580-2594 [PDF, 2MB]


Foraminifera are single-celled eukaryotes (protists) of large ecological importance, as well as environmental and paleoenvironmental indicators and biostratigraphic tools. In addition, they are capable of surviving in anoxic marine environments where they represent a major component of the benthic community. However, the cellular adaptations of Foraminifera to the anoxic environment remain poorly constrained. We sampled an oxic-anoxic transition zone in marine sediments from the Namibian shelf, where the genera Bolivina and Stainforthia dominated the Foraminifera community, and use metatranscriptomics to characterize Foraminifera metabolism across the different geochemical conditions. Relative Foraminifera gene expression in anoxic sediment increased an order of magnitude, which was confirmed in a 10-day incubation experiment where the development of anoxia coincided with a 20-40-fold increase in the relative abundance of Foraminifera protein encoding transcripts, attributed primarily to those involved in protein synthesis, intracellular protein trafficking, and modification of the cytoskeleton. This indicated that many Foraminifera were not only surviving but thriving, under the anoxic conditions. The anaerobic energy metabolism of these active Foraminifera was characterized by fermentation of sugars and amino acids, fumarate reduction, and potentially dissimilatory nitrate reduction. Moreover, the gene expression data indicate that under anoxia Foraminifera use the phosphogen creatine phosphate as an ATP store, allowing reserves of high-energy phosphate pool to be maintained for sudden demands of increased energy during anaerobic metabolism. This was co-expressed alongside genes involved in phagocytosis and clathrin-mediated endocytosis (CME). Foraminifera may use CME to utilize dissolved organic matter as a carbon and energy source, in addition to ingestion of prey cells via phagocytosis. These anaerobic metabolic mechanisms help to explain the ecological success of Foraminifera documented in the fossil record since the Cambrian period more than 500 million years ago.

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