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Nature Communications
Vol. 7, 2016

Reconstructing a hydrogen-driven microbial metabolic network in Opalinus Clay rock

Alexandre Bagnoud, Karuna Chourey, Robert L. Hettich, Ino de Bruijn, Anders F. Andersson, Olivier X. Leupin, Bernhard Schwyn & Rizlan Bernier-Latmani

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, Station 6, Lausanne CH-1015, Switzerland.


The Opalinus Clay formation will host geological nuclear waste repositories in Switzerland. It is expected that gas pressure will build-up due to hydrogen production from steel corrosion, jeopardizing the integrity of the engineered barriers. In an in situ experiment located in the Mont Terri Underground Rock Laboratory, we demonstrate that hydrogen is consumed by microorganisms, fuelling a microbial community. Metagenomic binning and metaproteomic analysis of this deep subsurface community reveals a carbon cycle driven by autotrophic hydrogen oxidizers belonging to novel genera. Necromass is then processed by fermenters, followed by complete oxidation to carbon dioxide by heterotrophic sulfate-reducing bacteria, which closes the cycle. This microbial metabolic web can be integrated in the design of geological repositories to reduce pressure build-up. This study shows that Opalinus Clay harbours the potential for chemolithoautotrophic-based system, and provides a model of microbial carbon cycle in deep subsurface environments where hydrogen and sulfate are present.

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