A metastable equilibrium model for the relative abundances of microbial phyla in a hot spring
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Copyright: ©2013 Dick, Shock. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Many studies link the compositions of microbial communities to their environments, but the energetics of organism-specific biomass synthesis as a function of geochemical variables has rarely been assessed. We describe a thermodynamic model that integrates geochemical and metagenomic data for biofilms sampled at five sites along a thermal and chemical gradient in the outflow channel of the hot spring known as ‘‘Bison Pool’’ in Yellowstone National Park. The relative abundances of major phyla in individual communities sampled along the outflow channel are modeled by computing metastable equilibrium among model proteins with amino acid compositions derived from metagenomic sequences. Geochemical conditions are represented by temperature and activities of basis species, including pH and oxidation-reduction potential quantified as the activity of dissolved hydrogen. By adjusting the activity of hydrogen, the model can be tuned to closely approximate the relative abundances of the phyla observed in the community profiles generated from BLAST assignments. The findings reveal an inverse relationship between the energy demand to form the proteins at equal thermodynamic activities and the abundance of phyla in the community.Although the metabolisms used by many members of these communities are driven by chemical disequilibria, the results support the possibility that higher-level patterns of chemotrophic microbial ecosystems are shaped by metastable equilibrium states that depend on both the composition of biomass and the environmental conditions.
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