Metagenetics represents an efficient and rapid tool to describe environmental diversity patterns of microbial eukaryotes based on ribosomal DNA sequences. However, the results of metagenetic studies are often biased by the presence of extracellular DNA molecules that are persistent in the environment, especially in deep-sea sediment. As an alternative, short-lived RNA molecules constitute a good proxy for the detection of active species. Here, we used a metatranscriptomic approach based on RNA-derived (cDNA) sequences to study the diversity of the deep-sea benthic foraminifera and compared it to the metagenetic approach. We analyzed 257 ribosomal DNA and cDNA sequences obtained from seven sediments samples collected in the Sea of Japan at depths ranging from 486 to 3665 m. The DNA and RNA-based approaches gave a similar view of the taxonomic composition of foraminiferal assemblage, but differed in some important points. First, the cDNA dataset was dominated by sequences of rotaliids and robertiniids, suggesting that these calcareous species, some of which have been observed in Rose Bengal stained samples, are the most active component of foraminiferal community. Second, the richness of monothalamous (single-chambered) foraminifera was particularly high in DNA extracts from the deepest samples, confirming that this group of foraminifera is abundant but not necessarily very active in the deep-sea sediments. Finally, the high divergence of undetermined sequences in cDNA dataset indicate the limits of our database and lack of knowledge about some active but possibly rare species. Our study demonstrates the capability of the metatranscriptomic approach to detect active foraminiferal species and prompt its use in future high-throughput sequencing-based environmental surveys.
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