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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Nov;79(22):6932-40. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01905-13. Epub 2013 Aug 30.

Probing the functional diversity of global pristine soil communities with 3-chlorobenzoate reveals that communities of generalists dominate catabolic transformation.

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Air Force Research Laboratory, Airbase Technologies Division, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, USA.


Understanding of functional diversity of microbial populations has lagged description of their molecular diversity. Differences in substrate specificity, kinetics, products, and regulation can dramatically influence phenotypic variation among closely related strains, features that are missed when the strains studied are the fastest-growing and most easily isolated from serial enrichments. To investigate the broader bacterial diversity underlying degradation of anthropogenic chemicals in nature, we studied the 3-chlorobenzoate (3-CBA) degradation rate in a collection of aerobic 3-CBA degraders previously isolated from undisturbed soils in two representative ecosystems: (i) Mediterranean sclerophyllous woodlands in California, Chile, South Africa, and Australia and (ii) boreal forests in Canada and Russia. The majority of isolates degraded 3-CBA slowly and did not completely mineralize 1.0 mM 3-CBA within 1 week. Those with intermediate degradation rates had incomplete degradation pathways and produced colored intermediates indicative of chlorocatechol, a product likely metabolized by other members of the community. About 10% of the isolates grew rapidly and mineralized greater than 90% of the 3-CBA, but because of population heterogeneity in soil, they are likely not large contributors to a soil's total transformation capacity. This suggests that xenobiotic degradation in nature is carried out by a community of cometabolic generalists and not by the efficient specialists that have been traditionally studied in the laboratory. A subset of 58 genotypically distinct strains able to degrade >80% of the 3-CBA was examined for their catabolic versatility using 45 different compounds: mono- and dichlorinated benzoates, phenols, anilines, toluenes, nitrobenzenes, chlorobenzenes, and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. The isolates degraded from 2 to more than 30 compounds with a median of 7, but there was no correlation to habitat of isolation or 3-CBA activity. However, these findings were indicative of finer-scale functional diversity.

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