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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 May;73(9):2860-70. Epub 2007 Mar 9.

The microbial community structure in petroleum-contaminated sediments corresponds to geophysical signatures.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5410, USA.


The interdependence between geoelectrical signatures at underground petroleum plumes and the structures of subsurface microbial communities was investigated. For sediments contaminated with light non-aqueous-phase liquids, anomalous high conductivity values have been observed. Vertical changes in the geoelectrical properties of the sediments were concomitant with significant changes in the microbial community structures as determined by the construction and evaluation of 16S rRNA gene libraries. DNA sequencing of clones from four 16S rRNA gene libraries from different depths of a contaminated field site and two libraries from an uncontaminated background site revealed spatial heterogeneity in the microbial community structures. Correspondence analysis showed that the presence of distinct microbial populations, including the various hydrocarbon-degrading, syntrophic, sulfate-reducing, and dissimilatory-iron-reducing populations, was a contributing factor to the elevated geoelectrical measurements. Thus, through their growth and metabolic activities, microbial populations that have adapted to the use of petroleum as a carbon source can strongly influence their geophysical surroundings. Since changes in the geophysical properties of contaminated sediments parallel changes in the microbial community compositions, it is suggested that geoelectrical measurements can be a cost-efficient tool to guide microbiological sampling for microbial ecology studies during the monitoring of natural or engineered bioremediation processes.

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