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PLoS One. 2018 May 1;13(5):e0195080. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195080. eCollection 2018.

Effect of the natural arsenic gradient on the diversity and arsenic resistance of bacterial communities of the sediments of Camarones River (Atacama Desert, Chile).

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Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Concepción, Concepción, Chile.
Microbiology Laboratory, Faculty of Renewable Natural Resources, Arturo Prat University, Iquique, Chile.
Department of Chemical, Biological, Pharmaceutical and Environmental Sciences, University of Messina, Messina, Italy.
Institute for the Coastal Marine Environment, National Research Council (IAMC-CNR), Messina, Italy.
Center for Biomedical Informatics, Department of Public Health Sciences, Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, Illinois, United States of America.
Marine Microbiology Group, Institut Mediterrani d'Estudis Avancats (CSIC-UIB), Esporles, Spain.
Department of Analytical and Inorganic Chemistry, Faculty of Chemical Sciences, University of Concepcion, Concepcion, Chile.


Arsenic (As), a highly toxic metalloid, naturally present in Camarones River (Atacama Desert, Chile) is a great health concern for the local population and authorities. In this study, the taxonomic and functional characterization of bacterial communities associated to metal-rich sediments from three sites of the river (sites M1, M2 and M3), showing different arsenic concentrations, were evaluated using a combination of approaches. Diversity of bacterial communities was evaluated by Illumina sequencing. Strains resistant to arsenic concentrations varying from 0.5 to 100 mM arsenite or arsenate were isolated and the presence of genes coding for enzymes involved in arsenic oxidation (aio) or reduction (arsC) investigated. Bacterial communities showed a moderate diversity which increased as arsenic concentrations decreased along the river. Sequences of the dominant taxonomic groups (abundances ≥1%) present in all three sites were affiliated to Proteobacteria (range 40.3-47.2%), Firmicutes (8.4-24.8%), Acidobacteria (10.4-17.1%), Actinobacteria (5.4-8.1%), Chloroflexi (3.9-7.5%), Planctomycetes (1.2-5.3%), Gemmatimonadetes (1.2-1.5%), and Nitrospirae (1.1-1.2%). Bacterial communities from sites M2 and M3 showed no significant differences in diversity between each other (p = 0.9753) but they were significantly more diverse than M1 (p<0.001 and p<0.001, respectively). Sequences affiliated with Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Acidobacteria, Chloroflexi and Actinobacteria at M1 accounted for more than 89% of the total classified bacterial sequences present but these phyla were present in lesser proportions in M2 and M3 sites. Strains isolated from the sediment of sample M1, having the greatest arsenic concentration (498 mg kg-1), showed the largest percentages of arsenic oxidation and reduction. Genes aio were more frequently detected in isolates from M1 (54%), whereas arsC genes were present in almost all isolates from all three sediments, suggesting that bacterial communities play an important role in the arsenic biogeochemical cycle and detoxification of arsenical compounds. Overall, results provide further knowledge on the microbial diversity of arsenic contaminated fresh-water sediments.

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