Discovering new microbes and metabolisms in deep sea sediments using metagenomic sequencing

Microorganisms living in marine seafloor sediments are of scientific interest for many reasons including their role in cycling nutrients, their metabolic diversity, and the relatively few investigations of their existence due to their habitation of such an extreme and isolated environment. In addition, subsurface microbes can provide insight into their surrounding environment, including signalling the presence of hydrocarbon seeps. Hydrocarbon seepage from subsurface petroleum reservoirs to marine surface sediments alters the immediate microbial community by selecting for and enhancing the growth of microbes that degrade and feed on hydrocarbons. By analyzing the genetic material of subsurface microbes, the types of microbial species present and their potential functions in this extreme environment can be elucidated. Certain microbial species and certain genes can indicate the potential presence of a hydrocarbon seep and thus aid in de-risking offshore oil and gas exploration. In this project two “bioassays” will be established. The first will target microbial species that are preferentially found at hydrocarbon seep sites. The second will target microbial genes that are involved in hydrocarbon biodegradation. Samples to identify these microbial species and genes will be collected in partnership with Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA), on the Scotian Slope, offshore Nova Scotia.

Jackie Zorz
Faculty Supervisor: 
Casey Hubert
Nova Scotia
Partner University: