Banfield Laboratory

University of California, Berkeley

Microbial diversity, metabolic potential, and roles in biogeochemical cycling in the terrestrial subsurface

The study system for this project is an aquifer adjacent to the Colorado River in Rifle, Colorado, USA.Research addresses knowledge gaps related to the roles of subsurface microbial communities in biogeochemical cycling. Given the link between the carbon cycle and global climate change, a particular interest in this work is the impact of microorganisms on carbon compounds buried in the terrestrial subsurface, both through respiration and carbon fixation.



Our approach involves the comprehensive cultivation-independent identification of the members of natural communities, prediction of their metabolic capacities and testing via functional omics methods and field experiments. The research is carried out as part of a large LBNL-led initiative in an aquifer adjacent to the Colorado River, Rifle, USA. Other team members are taking metabolic predictions as inputs to modeling efforts.


We have established bioinformatics methods that make it possible to conduct high throughput analysis of vast amounts of DNA sequence information to yield hundreds, even thousands of genomes. Many of the organisms in the subsurface are novel, being affiliated with bacterial phyla that lack cultivation representatives. Thus, the research is providing new genome-based insight into the role of these little studied organisms in the interlinked carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, metal, and sulfur cycles that define biogeochemistry in the riparian zone.