Membrane fatty acids were extracted from a sediment core above marine gas hydrates at Hydrate Ridge, NE Pacific. Anaerobic sediments from this environment are characterized by high sulfate reduction rates driven by the anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM). The assimilation of methane carbon into bacterial biomass is indicated by carbon isotope values of specific fatty acids as low as -103parts per thousand. Specific fatty acids released from bacterial membranes include C(16:1omega5c) , C(17:1omega6c) , and cyC(17:0omega5,6) , all of which have been fully characterized by mass spectrometry. These unusual fatty acids continuously display the lowest delta (13)C values in all sediment horizons and two of them are detected in high abundance (i.e., C(16:1omega5c) and cyC(17:0omega5,6) ). Combined with microscopic examination by fluorescence in situ hybridization specifically targeting sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) of the Desulfosarcina/Desulfococcus group, which are present in the aggregates of AOM consortia in extremely high numbers, these specific fatty acids appear to provide a phenotypic fingerprint indicative for SRB of this group. Correlating depth profiles of specific fatty acid content and aggregate number in combination with pore water sulfate data provide further evidence of this finding. Using mass balance calculations we present a cell-specific fatty acid pattern most likely displaying a very close resemblance to the still uncultured Desulfosarcina/Desulfococcus species involved in AOM.
Geomicrobiology Journal, 2003, Vol 20, Issue 4, p. 403-419