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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1994 Nov;60(11):4022-31.

Investigation of an Iron-Oxidizing Microbial Mat Community Located near Aarhus, Denmark: Field Studies.

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Center for Microbial Ecology and Department of Microbiology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824.


We investigated the microbial community that developed at an iron seep where anoxic groundwater containing up to 250 muM Fe flowed out of a rock wall and dense, mat-like aggregations of ferric hydroxides formed at the oxic-anoxic interface. In situ analysis with oxygen microelectrodes revealed that the oxygen concentrations in the mat were rarely more than 50% of air saturation and that the oxygen penetration depth was quite variable, ranging from <0.05 cm to several centimeters. The bulk pH of the mat ranged from 7.1 to 7.6. There appeared to be a correlation between the flow rates at different subsites of the mat and the morphotypes of the microorganisms and Fe oxides that developed. In subsites with low flow rates (<2 ml/s), the iron-encrusted sheaths of Leptothrix ochracea predominated. Miniature cores revealed that the top few millimeters of the mat consisted primarily of L. ochracea sheaths, only about 7% of which contained filaments of cells. Deeper in the mat, large particulate oxides developed, which were often heavily colonized by unicellular bacteria that were made visible by staining with acridine orange. Direct cell counts revealed that the number of bacteria increased from approximately 10 to 10 cells per cm and the total iron concentration increased from approximately 0.5 to 3 mmol/cm with depth in the mat. Primarily because of the growth of L. ochracea, the mat could accrete at rates of up to 3.1 mm/day at these subsites. The iron-encrusted stalks of Gallionella spp. prevailed in localized zones of the same low-flow-rate subsites, usually close to where the source water emanated from the wall. These latter zones had the lowest O(2) concentrations (<10% of the ambient concentration), confirming the microaerobic nature of Gallionella spp. In subsites with high flow rates (>6 ml/s) particulate Fe oxides were dominant; direct counts revealed that up to 10 cells of primarily unicellular bacteria per cm were associated with these particulate oxides. These zones exhibited little vertical stratification in either the number of cells or iron concentration. Finally, mat samples incubated anaerobically in the presence of acetate or succinate exhibited significant potential for iron reduction, suggesting the possibility that a localized iron cycle could occur within the mat community.

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