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Extremophiles. 2008 Jul;12(4):491-504. doi: 10.1007/s00792-008-0153-y. Epub 2008 Mar 18.

Novelty and spatio-temporal heterogeneity in the bacterial diversity of hypersaline Lake Tebenquiche (Salar de Atacama).

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Centro de Biotecnología, Universidad Católica del Norte, Avda. Angamos 0610, Antofagasta, Chile.


Lake Tebenquiche is one of the largest saline water bodies in the Salar de Atacama at 2,500 m above sea level in northeastern Chile. Bacteria inhabiting there have to deal with extreme changes in salinity, temperature and UV dose (i.e., high environmental dissimilarity in the physical landscape). We analyzed the bacterioplankton structure of this lake by 16S rRNA gene analyses along a spatio-temporal survey. The bacterial assemblage within the lake was quite heterogeneous both in space and time. Salinity changed both in space and time ranging between 1 and 30% (w/v), and total abundances of planktonic prokaryotes in the different sampling points within the lake ranged between two and nine times 10(6) cells mL(-1). Community composition changed accordingly to the particular salinity of each point as depicted by genetic fingerprinting analyses (denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis), showing a high level of variation in species composition from place to place (beta-diversity). Three selected sites were analyzed in more detail by clone libraries. We observed a predominance of Bacteroidetes (about one third of the clones) and Gammaproteobacteria (another third) with respect to all the other bacterial groups. The diversity of Bacteroidetes sequences was large and showed a remarkable degree of novelty. Bacteroidetes formed at least four clusters with no cultured relatives in databases and rather distantly related to any known 16S rRNA sequence. Within this phylum, a rich and diverse presence of Salinibacter relatives was found in the saltiest part of the lake. Lake Tebenquiche included several novel microorganisms of environmental importance and appeared as a large unexplored reservoir of unknown bacteria.

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