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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1994 Jul;60(7):2238-47.

Multiple heavy metal tolerance of soil bacterial communities and its measurement by a thymidine incorporation technique.

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  • 1Department of Microbial Ecology, Lund University, S-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


A thymidine incorporation technique was used to determine the tolerance of a soil bacterial community to Cu, Cd, Zn, Ni, and Pb. An agricultural soil was artificially contaminated in our laboratory with individual metals at three different concentrations, and the results were compared with the results obtained by using the plate count technique. Thymidine incorporation was found to be a simple and rapid method for measuring tolerance. Data obtained by this technique were very reproducible. A linear relationship was found between changes in community tolerance levels obtained by the thymidine incorporation and plate count techniques (r = 0.732, P < 0.001). An increase in tolerance to the metal added to soil was observed for the bacterial community obtained from each polluted soil compared with the community obtained from unpolluted soil. The only exception was when Pb was added; no indication of Pb tolerance was found. An increase in the tolerance to metals other than the metal originally added to soil was also observed, indicating that there was multiple heavy metal tolerance at the community level. Thus, Cu pollution, in addition to increasing tolerance to Cu, also induced tolerance to Zn, Cd, and Ni. Zn and Cd pollution increased community tolerance to all five metals. Ni amendment increased tolerance to Ni the most but also increased community tolerance to Zn and, to lesser degrees, increased community tolerance to Pb and Cd. In soils polluted with Pb increased tolerance to other metals was found in the following order: Ni > Cd > Zn > Cu. We found significant positive relationships between changes in Cd, Zn, and Pb tolerance and, to a lesser degree, between changes in Pb and Ni tolerance when all metals and amendment levels were compared. The magnitude of the increase in heavy metal tolerance was found to be linearly related to the logarithm of the metal concentration added to the soil. Threshold tolerance concentrations were estimated from these linear relationships, and changes in tolerance could be detected at levels of soil contamination similar to those reported previously to result in changes in the phospholipid fatty acid pattern (A. Frostegård, A. Tunlid, and E. Bååth, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 59: 3605-3617, 1993).

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