Dragone Nicholas B.

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Nicholas B.

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  • Article
    Elevational constraints on the composition and genomic attributes of microbial communities in Antarctic soils
    (American Society for Microbiology, 2022-01-18) Dragone, Nicholas B. ; Henley, Jessica B. ; Holland-Moritz, Hannah ; Diaz, Melisa A. ; Hogg, Ian D. ; Lyons, W. Berry ; Wall, Diana H. ; Adams, Byron J. ; Fierer, Noah
    The inland soils found on the Antarctic continent represent one of the more challenging environments for microbial life on Earth. Nevertheless, Antarctic soils harbor unique bacterial and archaeal (prokaryotic) communities able to cope with extremely cold and dry conditions. These communities are not homogeneous, and the taxonomic composition and functional capabilities (genomic attributes) of these communities across environmental gradients remain largely undetermined. We analyzed the prokaryotic communities in soil samples collected from across the Shackleton Glacier region of Antarctica by coupling quantitative PCR, marker gene amplicon sequencing, and shotgun metagenomic sequencing. We found that elevation was the dominant factor explaining differences in the structures of the soil prokaryotic communities, with the drier and saltier soils found at higher elevations harboring less diverse communities and unique assemblages of cooccurring taxa. The higher-elevation soil communities also had lower maximum potential growth rates (as inferred from metagenome-based estimates of codon usage bias) and an overrepresentation of genes associated with trace gas metabolism. Together, these results highlight the utility of assessing community shifts across pronounced environmental gradients to improve our understanding of the microbial diversity found in Antarctic soils and the strategies used by soil microbes to persist at the limits of habitability.
  • Article
    Comparative mitochondrial and chloroplast genomics of a genetically distinct form of Sargassum contributing to recent “Golden Tides” in the Western Atlantic
    (John Wiley & Sons, 2016-12-20) Amaral-Zettler, Linda A. ; Dragone, Nicholas B. ; Schell, Jeffrey M. ; Slikas, Beth ; Murphy, Leslie G. ; Morrall, Clare E. ; Zettler, Erik R.
    Over the past 5 years, massive accumulations of holopelagic species of the brown macroalga Sargassum in coastal areas of the Caribbean have created “golden tides” that threaten local biodiversity and trigger economic losses associated with beach deterioration and impact on fisheries and tourism. In 2015, the first report identifying the cause of these extreme events implicated a rare form of the holopelagic species Sargassum natans (form VIII). However, since the first mention of S. natans VIII in the 1930s, based solely on morphological characters, no molecular data have confirmed this identification. We generated full-length mitogenomes and partial chloroplast genomes of all representative holopelagic Sargassum species, S. fluitans III and S. natans I alongside the putatively rare S. natans VIII, to demonstrate small but consistent differences between S. natans I and VIII (7 bp differences out of the 34,727). Our comparative analyses also revealed that both S. natans I and S. natans VIII share a very close phylogenetic relationship with S. fluitans III (94- and 96-bp differences of 34,727). We designed novel primers that amplified regions of the cox2 and cox3 marker genes with consistent polymorphic sites that enabled differentiation between the two S. natans forms (I and VIII) from each other and both from S. fluitans III in over 150 Sargassum samples including those from the 2014 golden tide event. Despite remarkable gene synteny and sequence conservation, the three Sargassum forms differ in morphology, ecology, and distribution patterns, warranting more extensive interrogation of holopelagic Sargassum genomes as a whole.
  • Article
    Exploring the boundaries of microbial habitability in soil
    (American Geophysical Union, 2021-05-29) Dragone, Nicholas B. ; Diaz, Melisa A. ; Hogg, Ian D. ; Lyons, W. Berry ; Jackson, W. Andrew ; Wall, Diana H. ; Adams, Byron J. ; Fierer, Noah
    Microbes are widely assumed to be capable of colonizing even the most challenging terrestrial surface environments on Earth given enough time. We would not expect to find surface soils uninhabited by microbes as soils typically harbor diverse microbial communities and viable microbes have been detected in soils exposed to even the most inhospitable conditions. However, if uninhabited soils do exist, we might expect to find them in Antarctica. We analyzed 204 ice-free soils collected from across a remote valley in the Transantarctic Mountains (84–85°S, 174–177°W) and were able to identify a potential limit of microbial habitability. While most of the soils we tested contained diverse microbial communities, with fungi being particularly ubiquitous, microbes could not be detected in many of the driest, higher elevation soils—results that were confirmed using cultivation-dependent, cultivation-independent, and metabolic assays. While we cannot confirm that this subset of soils is completely sterile and devoid of microbial life, our results suggest that microbial life is severely restricted in the coldest, driest, and saltiest Antarctic soils. Constant exposure to these conditions for thousands of years has limited microbial communities so that their presence and activity is below detectable limits using a variety of standard methods. Such soils are unlikely to be unique to the studied region with this work supporting previous hypotheses that microbial habitability is constrained by near-continuous exposure to cold, dry, and salty conditions, establishing the environmental conditions that limit microbial life in terrestrial surface soils.
  • Article
    Strong dispersal limitation of microbial communities at Shackleton Glacier, Antarctica
    (American Society for Microbiology, 2023-01-31) Lemoine, Nathan P. ; Adams, Byron J. ; Diaz, Melisa ; Dragone, Nicholas B. ; Franco, André L. C. ; Fierer, Noah ; Lyons, W Berry ; Hogg, Ian D. ; Wall, Diana H.
    Microbial communities can be structured by both deterministic and stochastic processes, but the relative importance of these processes remains unknown. The ambiguity partly arises from an inability to disentangle soil microbial processes from confounding factors, such as aboveground plant communities or anthropogenic disturbance. In this study, we characterized the relative contributions of determinism and stochasticity to assembly processes of soil bacterial communities across a large environmental gradient of undisturbed Antarctic soils. We hypothesized that harsh soils would impose a strong environmental selection on microbial communities, whereas communities in benign soils would be structured largely by dispersal. Contrary to our expectations, dispersal was the dominant assembly mechanism across the entire soil environmental gradient, including benign environments. The microbial community composition reflects slowly changing soil conditions and dispersal limitation of isolated sites. Thus, stochastic processes, as opposed to deterministic, are primary drivers of soil ecosystem assembly across space at our study site. This is especially surprising given the strong environmental constraints on soil microorganisms in one of the harshest environments on the planet, suggesting that dispersal could be a driving force in microbial community assembly in soils worldwide.Because of their diversity and ubiquity, microbes provide an excellent means to tease apart how natural communities are structured. In general, ecologists believe that stochastic assembly processes, like random drift and dispersal, should dominate in benign environments while deterministic processes, like environmental filtering, should be prevalent in harsh environments. To help resolve this debate, we analyzed microbial community composition in pristine Antarctic soils devoid of human influence or plant communities for eons. Our results demonstrate that dispersal limitation is a surprisingly potent force of community limitation throughout all soil conditions. Thus, dispersal appears to be a driving force of microbial community assembly, even in the harshest of conditions.