Microbial community samples were collected from the anoxic zone of the Cariaco Basin at depths of 320, 500, and 1,310 m on a November 1996 cruise and were used to construct 16S ribosomal DNA libraries. Of 60 nonchimeric sequences in the 320-m library, 56 belonged to the ɛ subdivision of the Proteobacteria (ɛ-Proteobacteria) and 53 were closely related to ectosymbionts of Rimicaris exoculata and Alvinella pompejana, which are referred to here as epsilon symbiont relatives (ESR). The 500-m library contained sequences affiliated with the fibrobacteria, the Flexibacter-Cytophaga-Bacteroides division, the division Verrucomicrobia, the division Proteobacteria, and the OP3 candidate division. The Proteobacteria included members of the γ, δ, ɛ and new candidate subdivisions, and γ-proteobacterial sequences were dominant (25.6%) among the proteobacterial sequences. As in the 320-m library, the majority of the ɛ-proteobacteria belonged to the ESR group. The genus Fibrobacter and its relatives were the second largest group in the library (23.6%), followed by the δ-proteobacteria and the ɛ-proteobacteria. The 1,310-m library had the greatest diversity; 59 nonchimeric clones in the library contained 30 unique sequences belonging to the planctomycetes, the fibrobacteria, the Flexibacter-Cytophaga-Bacteroides division, the Proteobacteria, and the OP3 and OP8 candidate divisions. The proteobacteria included members of new candidate subdivisions and the β, γ, δ, and ɛ-subdivisions. ESR sequences were still present in the 1,310-m library but in a much lower proportion (8.5%). One archaeal sequence was present in the 500-m library (2% of all microorganisms in the library), and eight archaeal sequences were present in the 1,310-m library (13.6%). All archaeal sequences fell into two groups; two clones in the 1,310-m library belonged to the kingdom Crenarchaeota and the remaining sequences in both libraries belonged to the kingdom Euryarchaeota. The latter group appears to be related to the Eel-TA1f2 sequence, which belongs to an archaeon suggested to be able to oxidize methane anaerobically. Based on phylogenetic inferences and measurements of dark CO2 fixation, we hypothesized that (i) the ESR are autotrophic anaerobic sulfide oxidizers, (ii) sulfate reduction and fermentative metabolism may be carried out by a large number of bacteria in the 500- and 1,310-m libraries, and (iii) members of the Euryarchaeota found in relatively large numbers in the 1,310-m library may be involved in anaerobic methane oxidation. Overall, the composition of microbial communities from the Cariaco Basin resembles the compositions of communities from several anaerobic sediments, supporting the hypothesis that the Cariaco Basin water column is similar to anaerobic sediments
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