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Microb Ecol. 2000 Dec;40(4):273-291.

Distribution and Biogeochemical Importance of Bacterial Populations in a Thick Clay-Rich Aquitard System.

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National Water Research Institute, Environment Canada, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.


To investigate the distribution of microbial biomass, populations and activities within a clay-rich, low hydraulic conductivity (10-11 to 10-12 m s-1) aquitard complex, cores were aseptically obtained from a series of overlying clayey deposits; a fractured till, unfractured till (20-30 ka BP), a disturbed interfacial zone (20-30 ka BP), and a Cretaceous clay aquitard (71-72 Ma BP). The results of confocal microscopy studies, culture methods, molecular approaches, and extractive fatty acid analyses all indicated low bacterial numbers that were non-homogeneously distributed within the sediments. Various primers for catabolic genes were used to amplify extracted DNA. Results indicated the presence of eubacterial 23S rDNA, and the narH gene for nitrate reductase and ribulose-1,5-biphosphate carboxylase (RuBP carboxylase). Although there was no evidence of limitation by electron acceptors or donors, sulfate-reducing bacteria were not detected below the fractured till zone, using PCR, enrichment, or culture techniques. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analyses indicated differences in community composition and abundance between the various geologic units. Results of FAME analyses of sediments yielded detectable extractable fatty acids throughout the aquitard complex. Bacterial activities were demonstrated by measuring mineralization of (14C) glucose. Porewater chemistry and stable isotope data were in keeping with an environment in which extremely slow growing, low populations of bacteria exert little impact. The observations also support the contention that in low permeability sediments bacteria may survive for geologic time periods.


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