The deep phreatic thermal explorer (DEPTHX) is an autonomous underwater vehicle designed to navigate an unexplored environment, generate high-resolution three-dimensional (3-D) maps, collect biological samples based on an autonomous sampling decision, and return to its origin. In the spring of 2007, DEPTHX was deployed in Zacatón, a deep (∼318 m), limestone, phreatic sinkhole (cenote) in northeastern Mexico. As DEPTHX descended, it generated a 3-D map based on the processing of range data from 54 onboard sonars. The vehicle collected water column samples and wall biomat samples throughout the depth profile of the cenote. Post-expedition sample analysis via comparative analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences revealed a wealth of microbial diversity. Traditional Sanger gene sequencing combined with a barcoded-amplicon pyrosequencing approach revealed novel, phylum-level lineages from the domains Bacteria and Archaea; in addition, several novel subphylum lineages were also identified. Overall, DEPTHX successfully navigated and mapped Zacatón, and collected biological samples based on an autonomous decision, which revealed novel microbial diversity in a previously unexplored environment.
- 16S rRNA
- Microbial diversity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science