Composition and structure of microbial communities from stromatolites of Hamelin Pool in Shark Bay, Western Australia

Dominic Papineau, Jeffrey J. Walker, Stephen J. Mojzsis, Norman R. Pace

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Stromatolites, organosedimentary structures formed by microbial activity, are found throughout the geological record and are important markers of biological history. More conspicuous in the past, stromatolites occur today in a few shallow marine environments, including Hamelin Pool in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Hamelin Pool stromatolites often have been considered contemporary analogs to ancient stromatolites, yet little is known about the microbial communities that build them. We used DNA-based molecular phylogenetic methods that do not require cultivation to study the microbial diversity of an irregular stromatolite and of the surface and interior of a domal stromatolite. To identify the constituents of the stromatolite communities, small subunit rRNA genes were amplified by PCR from community genomic DNA with universal primers, cloned, sequenced, and compared to known rRNA genes. The communities were highly diverse and novel. The average sequence identity of Hamelin Pool sequences compared to the > 200,000 known rRNA sequences was only ∼92%. Clone libraries were ∼90% bacterial and ∼10% archaeal, and eucaryotic rRNA genes were not detected in the libraries. The most abundant sequences were representative of novel proteobacteria (∼28%), planctomycetes (∼17%), and actinobacteria (∼14%). Sequences representative of cyanobacteria, long considered to dominate these communities, comprised <5% of clones. Approximately 10% of the sequences were most closely related to those of α-proteobacterial anoxygenic phototrophs. These results provide a framework for understanding the kinds of organisms that build contemporary stromatolites, their ecology, and their relevance to stromatolites preserved in the geological record.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4822-4832
Number of pages11
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1 2005


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology

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