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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2002 Aug;68(8):3859-66.

Association of microbial community composition and activity with lead, chromium, and hydrocarbon contamination.

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Department of Biological Sciences. Department of Agronomy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA.


Microbial community composition and activity were characterized in soil contaminated with lead (Pb), chromium (Cr), and hydrocarbons. Contaminant levels were very heterogeneous and ranged from 50 to 16,700 mg of total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH) kg of soil(-1), 3 to 3,300 mg of total Cr kg of soil(-1), and 1 to 17,100 mg of Pb kg of soil(-1). Microbial community compositions were estimated from the patterns of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFA); these were considerably different among the 14 soil samples. Statistical analyses suggested that the variation in PLFA was more correlated with soil hydrocarbons than with the levels of Cr and Pb. The metal sensitivity of the microbial community was determined by extracting bacteria from soil and measuring [(3)H]leucine incorporation as a function of metal concentration. Six soil samples collected in the spring of 1999 had IC(50) values (the heavy metal concentrations giving 50% reduction of microbial activity) of approximately 2.5 mM for CrO(4)2- and 0.01 mM for Pb2+. Much higher levels of Pb were required to inhibit [14C]glucose mineralization directly in soils. In microcosm experiments with these samples, microbial biomass and the ratio of microbial biomass to soil organic C were not correlated with the concentrations of hydrocarbons and heavy metals. However, microbial C respiration in samples with a higher level of hydrocarbons differed from the other soils no matter whether complex organic C (alfalfa) was added or not. The ratios of microbial C respiration to microbial biomass differed significantly among the soil samples (P < 0.05) and were relatively high in soils contaminated with hydrocarbons or heavy metals. Our results suggest that the soil microbial community was predominantly affected by hydrocarbons.

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