Microbial Abundance and Diversity in Subsurface Lower Oceanic Crust at Atlantis Bank, Southwest Indian Ridge.
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International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 360 drilled Hole U1473A at Atlantis Bank, an oceanic core complex on the Southwest Indian Ridge, with the aim of recovering representative samples of the lower oceanic crust. Recovered cores were primarily gabbro and olivine gabbro. These mineralogies may host serpentinization reactions that have the potential to support microbial life within the recovered rocks or at greater depths beneath Atlantis Bank. We quantified prokaryotic cells and analyzed microbial community composition for rock samples obtained from Hole U1473A and conducted nutrient addition experiments to assess if nutrient supply influences the composition of microbial communities. Microbial abundance was low (104 cells cm-3) but positively correlated with the presence of veins in rocks within some depth ranges. Due to the heterogeneous nature of the rocks downhole (alternating stretches of relatively unaltered gabbros and more significantly altered and fractured rocks), the strength of the positive correlations between rock characteristics and microbial abundances was weaker when all depths were considered. Microbial community diversity varied at each depth analyzed. Surprisingly, addition of simple organic acids, ammonium, phosphate, or ammonium plus phosphate in nutrient addition experiments did not affect microbial diversity or methane production in nutrient addition incubation cultures over 60weeks. The work presented here from Site U1473A, which is representative of basement rock samples at ultraslow spreading ridges and the usually inaccessible lower oceanic crust, increases our understanding of microbial life present in this rarely studied environment and provides an analog for basement below ocean world systems such as Enceladus. IMPORTANCE The lower oceanic crust below the seafloor is one of the most poorly explored habitats on Earth. The rocks from the Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR) are similar to rock environments on other ocean-bearing planets and moons. Studying this environment helps us increase our understanding of life in other subsurface rocky environments in our solar system that we do not yet have the capability to access. During an expedition to the SWIR, we drilled 780 m into lower oceanic crust and collected over 50 rock samples to count the number of resident microbes and determine who they are. We also selected some of these rocks for an experiment where we provided them with different nutrients to explore energy and carbon sources preferred for growth. We found that the number of resident microbes and community structure varied with depth. Additionally, added nutrients did not shape the microbial diversity in a predictable manner.