High-throughput single-cell cultivation reveals the underexplored rare biosphere in deep-sea sediments along the Southwest Indian Ridge†
Microorganisms in the deep sea play vital roles in marine ecosystems. However, despite great advances brought by high throughput sequencing and metagenomics, only a small portion of microorganisms living in the environment can be cultivated in the laboratory and systematically studied. In this study, an improved high-throughput microfluidic streak plate (MSP) platform was developed to speed up the isolation of microorganisms from deep-sea sediments and evaluated with deep-sea sediments collected from the Southwest Indian Ridge (SWIR). Based on our previously reported MSP method, we improved its isolation efficiency with a semi-automated droplet picker and improved humidity control to enable long-term cultivation with a low-nutrient medium for up to five months according to the slow-growing nature of most deep-sea species. The improved MSP method allows the isolation of microbes by selection and investigation of microbial diversity by high throughput sequencing of the pooled sample cultures. By picking individual droplets and scale-up cultivation, a total of 772 strains that were taxonomically assigned to 70 species were isolated from the deep-sea sediments in the SWIR, including 15 potential novel species. On the other hand, based on 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing analysis, the microbial diversity of the SWIR was studied and documented with culture-dependent and independent methods in this study. The superiority of the MSP platform in revealing the rare biosphere was also evaluated based on amplicon sequencing. The results show that droplet-based single-cell cultivation of the MSP has a much higher ability than traditional agar plate cultivation in obtaining microbial species and more than 90% of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) detected in the MSP pool belong to the rare biosphere. Our results indicate the high robustness and efficiency of the improved MSP platform in revealing the environmentally rare biosphere, especially for slow-growing species. Overall, the MSP platform has a superior ability to recover microbial diversity than conventional agar plates and it was found to hold great potential for recovering rare microbial resources from various environments.