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Hot in Cold: Microbial Life in the Hottest Springs in Permafrost

Chukotka is an arctic region located in the continuous permafrost zone, but thermal springs
are abundant there. In this study, for the first time, the microbial communities of the Chukotka hot
springs (CHS) biofilms and sediments with temperatures 54–94 C were investigated and analyzed by NGS sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons. In microbial mats (54–75 C), phototrophic bacteria of genus Chloroflexus dominated (up to 89% of all prokaryotes), while Aquificae were the most numerous at higher temperatures in Fe-rich sediments and filamentous “streamers” (up to 92%). The electron donors typical for Aquificae, such as H2S and H2, are absent or present only in trace amounts, and the prevalence of Aquificae might be connected with their ability to oxidize the ferrous iron present in CHS sediments. Armatimonadetes, Proteobacteria, Deinococcus-Thermus, Dictyoglomi, and Thermotogae, as well
as uncultured bacteria (candidate divisions Oct-Spa1-106, GAL15, and OPB56), were numerous, and Cyanobacteria were present in low numbers. Archaea (less than 8% of the total community of each tested spring) belonged to Bathyarchaeota, Aigarchaeota, and Thaumarchaeota. The geographical location and the predominantly autotrophic microbial community, built on mechanisms other than the sulfur cycle-based ones, make CHS a special and unique terrestrial geothermal ecosystem.

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