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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Feb;78(3):759-67. doi: 10.1128/AEM.07404-11. Epub 2011 Dec 2.

Distribution of microbial biomass and potential for anaerobic respiration in Hanford Site 300 Area subsurface sediment.

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Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington, USA.


Subsurface sediments were recovered from a 52-m-deep borehole cored in the 300 Area of the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington State to assess the potential for biogeochemical transformation of radionuclide contaminants. Microbial analyses were made on 17 sediment samples traversing multiple geological units: the oxic coarse-grained Hanford formation (9 to 17.4 m), the oxic fine-grained upper Ringold formation (17.7 to 18.1 m), and the reduced Ringold formation (18.3 to 52 m). Microbial biomass (measured as phospholipid fatty acids) ranged from 7 to 974 pmols per g in discrete samples, with the highest numbers found in the Hanford formation. On average, strata below 17.4 m had 13-fold less biomass than those from shallower strata. The nosZ gene that encodes nitrous oxide reductase (measured by quantitative real-time PCR) had an abundance of 5 to 17 relative to that of total 16S rRNA genes below 18.3 m and <5 above 18.1 m. Most nosZ sequences were affiliated with Ochrobactrum anthropi (97 sequence similarity) or had a nearest neighbor of Achromobacter xylosoxidans (90 similarity). Passive multilevel sampling of groundwater geochemistry demonstrated a redox gradient in the 1.5-m region between the Hanford-Ringold formation contact and the Ringold oxic-anoxic interface. Within this zone, copies of the dsrA gene and Geobacteraceae had the highest relative abundance. The majority of dsrA genes detected near the interface were related to Desulfotomaculum spp. These analyses indicate that the region just below the contact between the Hanford and Ringold formations is a zone of active biogeochemical redox cycling.

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