Contrasting genomic properties of free-living and particle-attached microbial assemblages within a coastal ecosystem

Maria W. Smith, Lisa Zeigler Allen, Andrew E. Allen, Lydie Herfort, Holly M. Simon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


The Columbia River (CR) is a powerful economic and environmental driver in the US Pacific Northwest. Microbial communities in the water column were analyzed from four diverse habitats: (1) an estuarine turbidity maximum (ETM), (2) a chlorophyll maximum of the river plume, (3) an upwelling-associated hypoxic zone, and (4) the deep ocean bottom. Three size fractions, 0.1-0.8, 0.8-3, and 3- 200 μm were collected for each habitat in August 2007, and used for DNA isolation and 454 sequencing, resulting in 12 metagenomes of >5 million reads (>1.6 Gbp). To characterize the dominant microorganisms and metabolisms contributing to coastal biogeochemistry, we used predicted peptide and rRNA data. The 3- and 0.8-μm metagenomes, representing particulate fractions, were taxonomically diverse across habitats. The 3-μm size fractions contained a high abundance of eukaryota with diatoms dominating the hypoxic water and plume, while cryptophytes were more abundant in the ETM. The 0.1-μm metagenomes represented mainly free-living bacteria and archaea. The most abundant archaeal hits were observed in the deep ocean and hypoxic water (19% of prokaryotic peptides in the 0.1-μm metagenomes), and were homologous to Nitrosopumilus maritimus (ammonia-oxidizing Thaumarchaeota). Bacteria dominated metagenomes of all samples. In the euphotic zone (estuary, plume and hypoxic ocean), the most abundant bacterial taxa (≥40% of prokaryotic peptides) represented aerobic photoheterotrophs. In contrast, the low-oxygen, deep water metagenome was enriched with sequences for strict and facultative anaerobes. Interestingly, many of the same anaerobic bacterial families were enriched in the 3-μm size fraction of the ETM (2-10X more abundant relative to the 0.1-μm metagenome), indicating possible formation of anoxic microniches within particles. Results from this study provide a metagenome perspective on ecosystem-scale metabolism in an upwelling-influenced river-dominated coastal margin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Columbia River coastal margin
  • Environmental water
  • Metagenome analysis
  • Microbial communities
  • Particle-attached and free-living microbes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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