Source Publication

Nature Geoscience

Document Type


Publication Date

April 2009


Brine fluids that upwell from deep, hot reservoirs below the sea bed supply the sea floor with energy-rich substrates and nutrients that are used by diverse microbial ecosystems. Contemporary hypersaline environments formed by brine seeps may provide insights into the metabolism and distribution of microorganisms on the early Earth or on extraterrestrial bodies. Here we use geochemical and genetic analyses to characterize microbial community composition and metabolism in two seafloor brines in the Gulf of Mexico: an active mud volcano and a quiescent brine pool. Both brine environments are anoxic and hypersaline. However, rates of sulphate reduction and acetate production are much higher in the brine pool, whereas the mud volcano supports much higher rates of methane production. We find no evidence of anaerobic oxidation of methane, despite high methane fluxes at both sites. We conclude that the contrasting microbial community compositions and metabolisms are linked to differences in dissolved-organic-matter input from the deep subsurface and different fluid advection rates between the two sites.

DOI: 10.1038/NGEO475

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