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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1980 Jun;39(6):1212-22.

Characterization of benthic microbial community structure by high-resolution gas chromatography of Fatty Acid methyl esters.

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Department of Biological Science, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida 32306.


Fatty acids are a widely studied group of lipids of sufficient taxonomic diversity to be useful in defining microbial community structure. The extraordinary resolution of glass capillary gas-liquid chromatography can be utilized to separate and tentatively identify large numbers of fatty acid methyl esters derived from the lipids of estuarine detritus and marine benthic microbiota without the bias of selective methods requiring culture or recovery of the microbes. The gas-liquid chromatographic analyses are both reproducible and highly sensitive, and the recovery of fatty acids is quantitative. The analyses can be automated, and the diagnostic technique of mass spectral fragmentation analysis can be readily applied. Splitless injection on glass capillary gas chromatographic columns detected by mass spectral selective ion monitoring provides an ultrasensitive and definitive monitoring system. Reciprocal mixtures of bacteria and fungi, when extracted and analyzed, showed progressive changes of distinctive fatty acid methyl esters derived from the lipids. By manipulating the environment of an estuarine detrital microbial community with antibiotics and culture conditions, it was possible to produce a community greatly enriched in eucaryotic fungi, as evidenced by scanning electron microscopic morphology. The fatty acid methyl esters from the lipids in the fungus-enriched detritus showed enrichment of the C(18) dienoic and the C(18) and C(20) polyenoic esters. Manipulation of the detrital microbiota that increased the procaryotic population resulted in an absence of large structures typical of fungal mycelia or diatoms, as evidenced by scanning electron microscopy, and a significantly larger proportion of anteiso- and isobranched C(15) fatty acid esters, C(17) cyclopropane fatty acid esters, and the cis-vaccenic isomer of the C(18) monoenoic fatty acid esters. As determined by these techniques, a marine settling community showed greater differences in bacterial as contrasted to microeucaryotic populations when compared with the microbial communities of benthic cores.

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