Novel microbial diversity retrieved by autonomous robotic exploration of the world's deepest vertical phreatic sinkhole

Jason W. Sahl, Nathaniel Fairfield, J. Kirk Harris, David Wettergreen, William C. Stone, John R. Spear

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-213
Number of pages13
JournalAstrobiology
Volume10
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • 16S rRNA
  • Autonomous
  • Microbial diversity
  • Robotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science

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