Sci Adv. 2022 Aug 26;8(34):eabn3485. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abn3485. Epub 2022 Aug 26.
The deep biosphere is the largest microbial habitat on Earth and features abundant bacterial endospores. Whereas dormancy and survival at theoretical energy minima are hallmarks of microbial physiology in the subsurface, ecological processes such as dispersal and selection in the deep biosphere remain poorly understood. We investigated the biogeography of dispersing bacteria in the deep sea where upward hydrocarbon seepage was confirmed by acoustic imagery and geochemistry. Thermophilic endospores in the permanently cold seabed correlated with underlying seep conduits reveal geofluid-facilitated cell migration pathways originating in deep petroleum-bearing sediments. Endospore genomes highlight adaptations to life in anoxic petroleum systems and bear close resemblance to oil reservoir microbiomes globally. Upon transport out of the subsurface, viable thermophilic endospores reenter the geosphere by sediment burial, enabling germination and environmental selection at depth where new petroleum systems establish. This microbial dispersal loop circulates living biomass in and out of the deep biosphere.