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Astrobiology. 2002 Fall;2(3):271-80.

Molecular identification of cyanobacteria associated with stromatolites from distinct geographical locations.

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Departments of Geological and Environmental Sciences and Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.


Modern stromatolites represent a significant resource for studying microbial ecology and evolution. A preliminary investigation was undertaken employing specific genetic probes to characterize the cyanobacteria responsible for stromatolite construction in a range of environments, including microbial mats found in Australia not previously examined with molecular methods. Isolates of cyanobacteria were collected from stromatolites in thermal springs, hypersaline lakes, and oceanic fringes on two continents. A polymerase chain reaction specific for DNA of cyanobacterial 16S rRNA was developed, the resulting products of the DNA amplification reaction were sequenced, and the data were used to infer relatedness between the isolates studied and other members of the cyanobacterial radiation. Complete sequence was generated for the region from position 27 to 408 for 13 strains of cyanobacteria associated with stromatolites. All stromatolite-derived sequences were most closely related to cyanobacteria, as indicated by local sequence alignment. It was possible to correlate genetic identity with morphological nomenclatures and to expand the phylogeny of benthic cyanobacteria. These inferences were also expanded to temporal variation in the dominant resident cyanobacterial species based on sampling of surface and core sinter laminations. Under the methods employed, only one cyanobacterial strain was detected in each sample, suggesting the possible dominance of a specific clonal population of cyanobacteria at any one time in the biota of the samples tested. The data indicate that internal core samples of a stromatolite at least 10 years old can be successfully analyzed by DNA-based methods to identify preserved cyanobacteria.

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