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1.  Draft Genome Sequence of the Lignin-Degrading Burkholderia sp. Strain LIG30, Isolated from Wet Tropical Forest Soil 
Genome Announcements  2014;2(3):e00637-14.
Burkholderia species are common soil Betaproteobacteria capable of degrading recalcitrant aromatic compounds and xenobiotics. Burkholderia sp. strain LIG30 was isolated from wet tropical forest soil and is capable of utilizing lignin as a sole carbon source. Here we report the draft genome sequence of Burkholderia sp. strain LIG30.
PMCID: PMC4064042  PMID: 24948777
2.  Metagenomics reveals sediment microbial community response to Deepwater Horizon oil spill 
The ISME Journal  2014;8(7):1464-1475.
The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in the spring of 2010 resulted in an input of ∼4.1 million barrels of oil to the Gulf of Mexico; >22% of this oil is unaccounted for, with unknown environmental consequences. Here we investigated the impact of oil deposition on microbial communities in surface sediments collected at 64 sites by targeted sequencing of 16S rRNA genes, shotgun metagenomic sequencing of 14 of these samples and mineralization experiments using 14C-labeled model substrates. The 16S rRNA gene data indicated that the most heavily oil-impacted sediments were enriched in an uncultured Gammaproteobacterium and a Colwellia species, both of which were highly similar to sequences in the DWH deep-sea hydrocarbon plume. The primary drivers in structuring the microbial community were nitrogen and hydrocarbons. Annotation of unassembled metagenomic data revealed the most abundant hydrocarbon degradation pathway encoded genes involved in degrading aliphatic and simple aromatics via butane monooxygenase. The activity of key hydrocarbon degradation pathways by sediment microbes was confirmed by determining the mineralization of 14C-labeled model substrates in the following order: propylene glycol, dodecane, toluene and phenanthrene. Further, analysis of metagenomic sequence data revealed an increase in abundance of genes involved in denitrification pathways in samples that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s benchmarks for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) compared with those that did not. Importantly, these data demonstrate that the indigenous sediment microbiota contributed an important ecosystem service for remediation of oil in the Gulf. However, PAHs were more recalcitrant to degradation, and their persistence could have deleterious impacts on the sediment ecosystem.
PMCID: PMC4069396  PMID: 24451203
DWH oil spill; hydrocarbons; iTag/Metagenomics; microbial community structure; sediments
3.  Microbial Community Responses to Organophosphate Substrate Additions in Contaminated Subsurface Sediments 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(6):e100383.
Radionuclide- and heavy metal-contaminated subsurface sediments remain a legacy of Cold War nuclear weapons research and recent nuclear power plant failures. Within such contaminated sediments, remediation activities are necessary to mitigate groundwater contamination. A promising approach makes use of extant microbial communities capable of hydrolyzing organophosphate substrates to promote mineralization of soluble contaminants within deep subsurface environments.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Uranium-contaminated sediments from the U.S. Department of Energy Oak Ridge Field Research Center (ORFRC) Area 2 site were used in slurry experiments to identify microbial communities involved in hydrolysis of 10 mM organophosphate amendments [i.e., glycerol-2-phosphate (G2P) or glycerol-3-phosphate (G3P)] in synthetic groundwater at pH 5.5 and pH 6.8. Following 36 day (G2P) and 20 day (G3P) amended treatments, maximum phosphate (PO43−) concentrations of 4.8 mM and 8.9 mM were measured, respectively. Use of the PhyloChip 16S rRNA microarray identified 2,120 archaeal and bacterial taxa representing 46 phyla, 66 classes, 110 orders, and 186 families among all treatments. Measures of archaeal and bacterial richness were lowest under G2P (pH 5.5) treatments and greatest with G3P (pH 6.8) treatments. Members of the phyla Crenarchaeota, Euryarchaeota, Bacteroidetes, and Proteobacteria demonstrated the greatest enrichment in response to organophosphate amendments and the OTUs that increased in relative abundance by 2-fold or greater accounted for 9%–50% and 3%–17% of total detected Archaea and Bacteria, respectively.
This work provided a characterization of the distinct ORFRC subsurface microbial communities that contributed to increased concentrations of extracellular phosphate via hydrolysis of organophosphate substrate amendments. Within subsurface environments that are not ideal for reductive precipitation of uranium, strategies that harness microbial phosphate metabolism to promote uranium phosphate precipitation could offer an alternative approach for in situ sequestration.
PMCID: PMC4065101  PMID: 24950228
4.  Functional Genomics with a Comprehensive Library of Transposon Mutants for the Sulfate-Reducing Bacterium Desulfovibrio alaskensis G20 
mBio  2014;5(3):e01041-14.
The genomes of sulfate-reducing bacteria remain poorly characterized, largely due to a paucity of experimental data and genetic tools. To meet this challenge, we generated an archived library of 15,477 mapped transposon insertion mutants in the sulfate-reducing bacterium Desulfovibrio alaskensis G20. To demonstrate the utility of the individual mutants, we profiled gene expression in mutants of six regulatory genes and used these data, together with 1,313 high-confidence transcription start sites identified by tiling microarrays and transcriptome sequencing (5′ RNA-Seq), to update the regulons of Fur and Rex and to confirm the predicted regulons of LysX, PhnF, PerR, and Dde_3000, a histidine kinase. In addition to enabling single mutant investigations, the D. alaskensis G20 transposon mutants also contain DNA bar codes, which enables the pooling and analysis of mutant fitness for thousands of strains simultaneously. Using two pools of mutants that represent insertions in 2,369 unique protein-coding genes, we demonstrate that the hypothetical gene Dde_3007 is required for methionine biosynthesis. Using comparative genomics, we propose that Dde_3007 performs a missing step in methionine biosynthesis by transferring a sulfur group to O-phosphohomoserine to form homocysteine. Additionally, we show that the entire choline utilization cluster is important for fitness in choline sulfate medium, which confirms that a functional microcompartment is required for choline oxidation. Finally, we demonstrate that Dde_3291, a MerR-like transcription factor, is a choline-dependent activator of the choline utilization cluster. Taken together, our data set and genetic resources provide a foundation for systems-level investigation of a poorly studied group of bacteria of environmental and industrial importance.
Sulfate-reducing bacteria contribute to global nutrient cycles and are a nuisance for the petroleum industry. Despite their environmental and industrial significance, the genomes of sulfate-reducing bacteria remain poorly characterized. Here, we describe a genetic approach to fill gaps in our knowledge of sulfate-reducing bacteria. We generated a large collection of archived, transposon mutants in Desulfovibrio alaskensis G20 and used the phenotypes of these mutant strains to infer the function of genes involved in gene regulation, methionine biosynthesis, and choline utilization. Our findings and mutant resources will enable systematic investigations into gene function, energy generation, stress response, and metabolism for this important group of bacteria.
PMCID: PMC4045070  PMID: 24865553
5.  Assessment of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impact on Gulf coast microbial communities 
One of the major environmental concerns of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was the ecological impact of the oil that reached shorelines of the Gulf Coast. Here we investigated the impact of the oil on the microbial composition in beach samples collected in June 2010 along a heavily impacted shoreline near Grand Isle, Louisiana. Successional changes in the microbial community structure due to the oil contamination were determined by deep sequencing of 16S rRNA genes. Metatranscriptomics was used to determine expression of functional genes involved in hydrocarbon degradation processes. In addition, potential hydrocarbon-degrading Bacteria were obtained in culture. The 16S data revealed that highly contaminated samples had higher abundances of Alpha- and Gammaproteobacteria sequences. Successional changes in these classes were observed over time, during which the oil was partially degraded. The metatranscriptome data revealed that PAH, n-alkane, and toluene degradation genes were expressed in the contaminated samples, with high homology to genes from Alteromonadales, Rhodobacterales, and Pseudomonales. Notably, Marinobacter (Gammaproteobacteria) had the highest representation of expressed genes in the samples. A Marinobacter isolated from this beach was shown to have potential for transformation of hydrocarbons in incubation experiments with oil obtained from the Mississippi Canyon Block 252 (MC252) well; collected during the Deepwater Horizon spill. The combined data revealed a response of the beach microbial community to oil contaminants, including prevalence of Bacteria endowed with the functional capacity to degrade oil.
PMCID: PMC3982105  PMID: 24772107
hydrocarbons; 16S rRNA gene; metatranscriptomics; oil spill; microbial communities
6.  Hexavalent Chromium Reduction under Fermentative Conditions with Lactate Stimulated Native Microbial Communities 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83909.
Microbial reduction of toxic hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)) in-situ is a plausible bioremediation strategy in electron-acceptor limited environments. However, higher [Cr(VI)] may impose stress on syntrophic communities and impact community structure and function. The study objectives were to understand the impacts of Cr(VI) concentrations on community structure and on the Cr(VI)-reduction potential of groundwater communities at Hanford, WA. Steady state continuous flow bioreactors were used to grow native communities enriched with lactate (30 mM) and continuously amended with Cr(VI) at 0.0 (No-Cr), 0.1 (Low-Cr) and 3.0 (High-Cr) mg/L. Microbial growth, metabolites, Cr(VI), 16S rRNA gene sequences and GeoChip based functional gene composition were monitored for 15 weeks. Temporal trends and differences in growth, metabolite profiles, and community composition were observed, largely between Low-Cr and High-Cr bioreactors. In both High-Cr and Low-Cr bioreactors, Cr(VI) levels were below detection from week 1 until week 15. With lactate enrichment, native bacterial diversity substantially decreased as Pelosinus spp., and Sporotalea spp., became the dominant groups, but did not significantly differ between Cr concentrations. The Archaea diversity also substantially decreased after lactate enrichment from Methanosaeta (35%), Methanosarcina (17%) and others, to mostly Methanosarcina spp. (95%). Methane production was lower in High-Cr reactors suggesting some inhibition of methanogens. Several key functional genes were distinct in Low-Cr bioreactors compared to High-Cr. Among the Cr resistant microbes, Burkholderia vietnamiensis, Comamonas testosterone and Ralstonia pickettii proliferated in Cr amended bioreactors. In-situ fermentative conditions facilitated Cr(VI) reduction, and as a result 3.0 mg/L Cr(VI) did not impact the overall bacterial community structure.
PMCID: PMC3871698  PMID: 24376771
7.  The SuperChip for microbial community structure, and function from all environments 
Microbial Biotechnology  2013;6(5):450-452.
We have the technology and capability to develop an all-in-one microarray that can provide complete information on a microbial community, including algae, protozoa, bacteria, archaea, fungi, viruses, antimicrobial resistance, biotoxins and functional activity. With lab-on-a-chip, nanotechnology integrating a variety of the latest methods for a large number of sample types (water, sediment, waste water, food, blood, etc.) it is possible to make a desktop instrument that would have universal applications. There are two major thrusts to this grand challenge that will allow us to take advantage of the latest biotechnological breakthroughs in real time. The first is a bioengineering thrust that will take advantage of the large multidisciplinary laboratories in developing key technologies. Miniaturization will reduce reagent costs and increase sensitivity and reaction kinetics for rapid turnaround time. New and evolving technologies will allow us to port the designs for state-of-the-art microarrays today to completely new nanotechnology inspired platforms as they mature. The second thrust is in bioinformatics to use our existing expertise to take advantage of the rapidly evolving landscape of bioinformatics data. This increasing capacity of the data set will allow us to resolve microbial species to greatly improved levels and identify functional genes beyond the hypothetical protein level. A cheap and portable assay would impact countless areas, including clean water technologies, emerging diseases, bioenergy, infectious disease diagnosis, climate change, food safety, environmental clean-up and bioterrorism. In my opinion it is possible but it will require a very large group of multidiscplenary scientists from multiple institutions crossing many international boundaries and funding over a 5-year period of more than $100 million. Given the impact that this SuperChip could have it is well worth the price!!!
PMCID: PMC3918150  PMID: 23464831
8.  Draft Genome Sequence for Desulfovibrio africanus Strain PCS 
Genome Announcements  2013;1(2):e00144-13.
Desulfovibrio africanus strain PCS is an anaerobic sulfate-reducing bacterium (SRB) isolated from sediment from Paleta Creek, San Diego, CA. Strain PCS is capable of reducing metals such as Fe(III) and Cr(VI), has a cell cycle, and is predicted to produce methylmercury. We present the D. africanus PCS genome sequence.
PMCID: PMC3624683  PMID: 23580709
9.  Metagenomic analysis and metabolite profiling of deep–sea sediments from the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill 
Marine subsurface environments such as deep-sea sediments, house abundant and diverse microbial communities that are believed to influence large-scale geochemical processes. These processes include the biotransformation and mineralization of numerous petroleum constituents. Thus, microbial communities in the Gulf of Mexico are thought to be responsible for the intrinsic bioremediation of crude oil released by the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. While hydrocarbon contamination is known to enrich for aerobic, oil-degrading bacteria in deep-seawater habitats, relatively little is known about the response of communities in deep-sea sediments, where low oxygen levels may hinder such a response. Here, we examined the hypothesis that increased hydrocarbon exposure results in an altered sediment microbial community structure that reflects the prospects for oil biodegradation under the prevailing conditions. We explore this hypothesis using metagenomic analysis and metabolite profiling of deep-sea sediment samples following the DWH oil spill. The presence of aerobic microbial communities and associated functional genes was consistent among all samples, whereas, a greater number of Deltaproteobacteria and anaerobic functional genes were found in sediments closest to the DWH blowout site. Metabolite profiling also revealed a greater number of putative metabolites in sediments surrounding the blowout zone relative to a background site located 127 km away. The mass spectral analysis of the putative metabolites revealed that alkylsuccinates remained below detection levels, but a homologous series of benzylsuccinates (with carbon chain lengths from 5 to 10) could be detected. Our findings suggest that increased exposure to hydrocarbons enriches for Deltaproteobacteria, which are known to be capable of anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism. We also provide evidence for an active microbial community metabolizing aromatic hydrocarbons in deep-sea sediments of the Gulf of Mexico.
PMCID: PMC3598227  PMID: 23508965
Deepwater Horizon; metagenomics; metabolomics; oil-degradation
10.  Draft Genome Sequences for Two Metal-Reducing Pelosinus fermentans Strains Isolated from a Cr(VI)-Contaminated Site and for Type Strain R7 
Journal of Bacteriology  2012;194(18):5147-5148.
Pelosinus fermentans 16S rRNA gene sequences have been reported from diverse geographical sites since the recent isolation of the type strain. We present the genome sequence of the P. fermentans type strain R7 (DSM 17108) and genome sequences for two new strains with different abilities to reduce iron, chromate, and uranium.
PMCID: PMC3430306  PMID: 22933770
11.  Metagenomes of tropical soil-derived anaerobic switchgrass-adapted consortia with and without iron 
Standards in Genomic Sciences  2013;7(3):382-398.
Tropical forest soils decompose litter rapidly with frequent episodes of anoxia, making it likely that bacteria using alternate terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) such as iron play a large role in supporting decomposition under these conditions. The prevalence of many types of metabolism in litter deconstruction makes these soils useful templates for improving biofuel production. To investigate how iron availability affects decomposition, we cultivated feedstock-adapted consortia (FACs) derived from iron-rich tropical forest soils accustomed to experiencing frequent episodes of anaerobic conditions and frequently fluctuating redox. One consortium was propagated under fermenting conditions, with switchgrass as the sole carbon source in minimal media (SG only FACs), and the other consortium was treated the same way but received poorly crystalline iron as an additional terminal electron acceptor (SG + Fe FACs). We sequenced the metagenomes of both consortia to a depth of about 150 Mb each, resulting in a coverage of 26× for the more diverse SG + Fe FACs, and 81× for the relatively less diverse SG only FACs. Both consortia were able to quickly grow on switchgrass, and the iron-amended consortium exhibited significantly higher microbial diversity than the unamended consortium. We found evidence of higher stress in the unamended FACs and increased sugar transport and utilization in the iron-amended FACs. This work provides metagenomic evidence that supplementation of alternative TEAs may improve feedstock deconstruction in biofuel production.
PMCID: PMC3764933  PMID: 24019987
Anaerobic decomposition; switchgrass; Panicum virgatum; tropical forest soil; feedstock-adapted consortia; bacteria; archaea; metagenomics
12.  Microbial gene functions enriched in the Deepwater Horizon deep-sea oil plume 
The ISME Journal  2011;6(2):451-460.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the deepest and largest offshore spill in the United State history and its impacts on marine ecosystems are largely unknown. Here, we showed that the microbial community functional composition and structure were dramatically altered in a deep-sea oil plume resulting from the spill. A variety of metabolic genes involved in both aerobic and anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation were highly enriched in the plume compared with outside the plume, indicating a great potential for intrinsic bioremediation or natural attenuation in the deep sea. Various other microbial functional genes that are relevant to carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and iron cycling, metal resistance and bacteriophage replication were also enriched in the plume. Together, these results suggest that the indigenous marine microbial communities could have a significant role in biodegradation of oil spills in deep-sea environments.
PMCID: PMC3260509  PMID: 21814288
oil spill; deep-sea plume; microbial community; metagenomics; functional gene arrays; GeoChip
14.  Microbial Response to the MC-252 Oil and Corexit 9500 in the Gulf of Mexico 
The Deepwater Horizon spill released over 4.1 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In an effort to mitigate large oil slicks, the dispersant Corexit 9500 was sprayed onto surface slicks and injected directly at the wellhead at water depth of 1,500 m. Several research groups were involved in investigating the fate of the MC-252 oil using newly advanced molecular tools to elucidate microbial interactions with oil, gases, and dispersant. Microbial community analysis by different research groups revealed that hydrocarbon degrading bacteria belonging to Oceanospirillales, Colwellia, Cycloclasticus, Rhodobacterales, Pseudoalteromonas, and methylotrophs were found enriched in the contaminated water column. Presented here is a comprehensive overview of the ecogenomics of microbial degradation of MC-252 oil and gases in the water column and shorelines. We also present some insight into the fate of the dispersant Corexit 9500 that was added to aid in oil dispersion process. Our results show the dispersant was not toxic to the indigenous microbes at concentrations added, and different bacterial species isolated in the aftermath of the spill were able to degrade the various components of Corexit 9500 that included hydrocarbons, glycols, and dioctyl sulfosuccinate.
PMCID: PMC3468841  PMID: 23087678
MC-252; oil; biodegradation; Corexit 9500; hydrocarbon; dispersant; Gulf of Mexico
15.  Microbial Community Succession during Lactate Amendment and Electron Acceptor Limitation Reveals a Predominance of Metal-Reducing Pelosinus spp. 
The determination of the success of in situ bioremediation strategies is complex. By using controlled laboratory conditions, the influence of individual variables, such as U(VI), Cr(VI), and electron donors and acceptors on community structure, dynamics, and the metal-reducing potential can be studied. Triplicate anaerobic, continuous-flow reactors were inoculated with Cr(VI)-contaminated groundwater from the Hanford, WA, 100-H area, amended with lactate, and incubated for 95 days to obtain stable, enriched communities. The reactors were kept anaerobic with N2 gas (9 ml/min) flushing the headspace and were fed a defined medium amended with 30 mM lactate and 0.05 mM sulfate with a 48-h generation time. The resultant diversity decreased from 63 genera within 12 phyla to 11 bacterial genera (from 3 phyla) and 2 archaeal genera (from 1 phylum). Final communities were dominated by Pelosinus spp. and to a lesser degree, Acetobacterium spp., with low levels of other organisms, including methanogens. Four new strains of Pelosinus were isolated, with 3 strains being capable of Cr(VI) reduction while one also reduced U(VI). Under limited sulfate, it appeared that the sulfate reducers, including Desulfovibrio spp., were outcompeted. These results suggest that during times of electron acceptor limitation in situ, organisms such as Pelosinus spp. may outcompete the more-well-studied organisms while maintaining overall metal reduction rates and extents. Finally, lab-scale simulations can test new strategies on a smaller scale while facilitating community member isolation, so that a deeper understanding of community metabolism can be revealed.
PMCID: PMC3302606  PMID: 22267668
16.  Microbial Functional Gene Diversity with a Shift of Subsurface Redox Conditions during In Situ Uranium Reduction 
To better understand the microbial functional diversity changes with subsurface redox conditions during in situ uranium bioremediation, key functional genes were studied with GeoChip, a comprehensive functional gene microarray, in field experiments at a uranium mill tailings remedial action (UMTRA) site (Rifle, CO). The results indicated that functional microbial communities altered with a shift in the dominant metabolic process, as documented by hierarchical cluster and ordination analyses of all detected functional genes. The abundance of dsrAB genes (dissimilatory sulfite reductase genes) and methane generation-related mcr genes (methyl coenzyme M reductase coding genes) increased when redox conditions shifted from Fe-reducing to sulfate-reducing conditions. The cytochrome genes detected were primarily from Geobacter sp. and decreased with lower subsurface redox conditions. Statistical analysis of environmental parameters and functional genes indicated that acetate, U(VI), and redox potential (Eh) were the most significant geochemical variables linked to microbial functional gene structures, and changes in microbial functional diversity were strongly related to the dominant terminal electron-accepting process following acetate addition. The study indicates that the microbial functional genes clearly reflect the in situ redox conditions and the dominant microbial processes, which in turn influence uranium bioreduction. Microbial functional genes thus could be very useful for tracking microbial community structure and dynamics during bioremediation.
PMCID: PMC3318829  PMID: 22327592
17.  Metagenome, metatranscriptome and single-cell sequencing reveal microbial response to Deepwater Horizon oil spill 
The ISME Journal  2012;6(9):1715-1727.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a deep-sea hydrocarbon plume that caused a shift in the indigenous microbial community composition with unknown ecological consequences. Early in the spill history, a bloom of uncultured, thus uncharacterized, members of the Oceanospirillales was previously detected, but their role in oil disposition was unknown. Here our aim was to determine the functional role of the Oceanospirillales and other active members of the indigenous microbial community using deep sequencing of community DNA and RNA, as well as single-cell genomics. Shotgun metagenomic and metatranscriptomic sequencing revealed that genes for motility, chemotaxis and aliphatic hydrocarbon degradation were significantly enriched and expressed in the hydrocarbon plume samples compared with uncontaminated seawater collected from plume depth. In contrast, although genes coding for degradation of more recalcitrant compounds, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, total xylenes and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, were identified in the metagenomes, they were expressed at low levels, or not at all based on analysis of the metatranscriptomes. Isolation and sequencing of two Oceanospirillales single cells revealed that both cells possessed genes coding for n-alkane and cycloalkane degradation. Specifically, the near-complete pathway for cyclohexane oxidation in the Oceanospirillales single cells was elucidated and supported by both metagenome and metatranscriptome data. The draft genome also included genes for chemotaxis, motility and nutrient acquisition strategies that were also identified in the metagenomes and metatranscriptomes. These data point towards a rapid response of members of the Oceanospirillales to aliphatic hydrocarbons in the deep sea.
PMCID: PMC3498917  PMID: 22717885
Gulf oil spill; Deepwater Horizon; Oceanospirillales; single-cell genomics; metagenomics; metatranscriptomics
18.  Microfluidic fluorescence in situ hybridization and flow cytometry (µFlowFISH) 
Lab on a chip  2011;11(16):2673-2679.
We describe an integrated microfluidic device (µFlowFISH) capable of performing 16S rRNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) followed by flow cytometric detection for identifying bacteria in natural microbial communities. The device was used for detection of species involved in bioremediation of Cr(VI) and other metals in groundwater samples from a highly-contaminated environmental site (Hanford, WA, USA). The µFlowFISH seamlessly integrates two components: a hybridization chamber formed between two photopolymerized membranes, where cells and probes are electrophoretically loaded, incubated and washed; and a downstream cross structure for electrokinetically focusing cells into a single-file flow for flow cytometry analysis. The device is capable of analyzing a wide variety of bacteria including aerobic, facultative and anaerobic bacteria and was initially tested and validated using cultured microbes, including Escherichia coli, as well as two strains isolated from Hanford site: Desulfovibrio vulgaris strain RCH1, and Pseudomonas sp. strain RCH2 that are involved in Cr(VI) reduction and immobilization. Combined labeling and detection efficiencies of 74–97% were observed in experiments with simple mixtures of cultured cells confirmed specific labeling. Results obtained were in excellent agreement with those obtained by conventional flow cytometry confirming the accuracy of µFlowFISH. Finally, the device was used for analyzing water samples collected on different dates from the Hanford Site. We were able to monitor the numbers of Pseudomonas sp. with only 100–200 cells loaded into the microchip. The µFlowFISH approach provides an automated platform for quantitative detection of microbial cells from complex samples, and is ideally suited for analysis of precious samples with low cell numbers such as those found at extreme environmental niches, bioremediation sites, and the human microbiome.
PMCID: PMC3145043  PMID: 21755095
fluorescence in situ hybridization; flow cytometry; microbiome; lab-on-a-chip; microfluidics; photopolymerization
19.  Functional Characterization of Crp/Fnr-Type Global Transcriptional Regulators in Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough 
Crp/Fnr-type global transcriptional regulators regulate various metabolic pathways in bacteria and typically function in response to environmental changes. However, little is known about the function of four annotated Crp/Fnr homologs (DVU0379, DVU2097, DVU2547, and DVU3111) in Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough. A systematic study using bioinformatic, transcriptomic, genetic, and physiological approaches was conducted to characterize their roles in stress responses. Similar growth phenotypes were observed for the crp/fnr deletion mutants under multiple stress conditions. Nevertheless, the idea of distinct functions of Crp/Fnr-type regulators in stress responses was supported by phylogeny, gene transcription changes, fitness changes, and physiological differences. The four D. vulgaris Crp/Fnr homologs are localized in three subfamilies (HcpR, CooA, and cc). The crp/fnr knockout mutants were well separated by transcriptional profiling using detrended correspondence analysis (DCA), and more genes significantly changed in expression in a ΔDVU3111 mutant (JW9013) than in the other three paralogs. In fitness studies, strain JW9013 showed the lowest fitness under standard growth conditions (i.e., sulfate reduction) and the highest fitness under NaCl or chromate stress conditions; better fitness was observed for a ΔDVU2547 mutant (JW9011) under nitrite stress conditions and a ΔDVU2097 mutant (JW9009) under air stress conditions. A higher Cr(VI) reduction rate was observed for strain JW9013 in experiments with washed cells. These results suggested that the four Crp/Fnr-type global regulators play distinct roles in stress responses of D. vulgaris. DVU3111 is implicated in responses to NaCl and chromate stresses, DVU2547 in nitrite stress responses, and DVU2097 in air stress responses.
PMCID: PMC3273024  PMID: 22156435
20.  Microbial Community Analysis of a Coastal Salt Marsh Affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41305.
Coastal salt marshes are highly sensitive wetland ecosystems that can sustain long-term impacts from anthropogenic events such as oil spills. In this study, we examined the microbial communities of a Gulf of Mexico coastal salt marsh during and after the influx of petroleum hydrocarbons following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Total hydrocarbon concentrations in salt marsh sediments were highest in June and July 2010 and decreased in September 2010. Coupled PhyloChip and GeoChip microarray analyses demonstrated that the microbial community structure and function of the extant salt marsh hydrocarbon-degrading microbial populations changed significantly during the study. The relative richness and abundance of phyla containing previously described hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria (Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Actinobacteria) increased in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments and then decreased once hydrocarbons were below detection. Firmicutes, however, continued to increase in relative richness and abundance after hydrocarbon concentrations were below detection. Functional genes involved in hydrocarbon degradation were enriched in hydrocarbon-contaminated sediments then declined significantly (p<0.05) once hydrocarbon concentrations decreased. A greater decrease in hydrocarbon concentrations among marsh grass sediments compared to inlet sediments (lacking marsh grass) suggests that the marsh rhizosphere microbial communities could also be contributing to hydrocarbon degradation. The results of this study provide a comprehensive view of microbial community structural and functional dynamics within perturbed salt marsh ecosystems.
PMCID: PMC3399869  PMID: 22815990
21.  Glycoside Hydrolases from a targeted Compost Metagenome, activity-screening and functional characterization 
BMC Biotechnology  2012;12:38.
Metagenomics approaches provide access to environmental genetic diversity for biotechnology applications, enabling the discovery of new enzymes and pathways for numerous catalytic processes. Discovery of new glycoside hydrolases with improved biocatalytic properties for the efficient conversion of lignocellulosic material to biofuels is a critical challenge in the development of economically viable routes from biomass to fuels and chemicals.
Twenty-two putative ORFs (open reading frames) were identified from a switchgrass-adapted compost community based on sequence homology to related gene families. These ORFs were expressed in E. coli and assayed for predicted activities. Seven of the ORFs were demonstrated to encode active enzymes, encompassing five classes of hemicellulases. Four enzymes were over expressed in vivo, purified to homogeneity and subjected to detailed biochemical characterization. Their pH optima ranged between 5.5 - 7.5 and they exhibit moderate thermostability up to ~60-70°C.
Seven active enzymes were identified from this set of ORFs comprising five different hemicellulose activities. These enzymes have been shown to have useful properties, such as moderate thermal stability and broad pH optima, and may serve as the starting points for future protein engineering towards the goal of developing efficient enzyme cocktails for biomass degradation under diverse process conditions.
PMCID: PMC3477009  PMID: 22759983
22.  Anaerobic Decomposition of Switchgrass by Tropical Soil-Derived Feedstock-Adapted Consortia 
mBio  2012;3(1):e00249-11.
Tropical forest soils decompose litter rapidly with frequent episodes of anoxic conditions, making it likely that bacteria using alternate terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) play a large role in decomposition. This makes these soils useful templates for improving biofuel production. To investigate how TEAs affect decomposition, we cultivated feedstock-adapted consortia (FACs) derived from two tropical forest soils collected from the ends of a rainfall gradient: organic matter-rich tropical cloud forest (CF) soils, which experience sustained low redox, and iron-rich tropical rain forest (RF) soils, which experience rapidly fluctuating redox. Communities were anaerobically passed through three transfers of 10 weeks each with switchgrass as a sole carbon (C) source; FACs were then amended with nitrate, sulfate, or iron oxide. C mineralization and cellulase activities were higher in CF-FACs than in RF-FACs. Pyrosequencing of the small-subunit rRNA revealed members of the Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, and Alphaproteobacteria as dominant. RF- and CF-FAC communities were not different in microbial diversity or biomass. The RF-FACs, derived from fluctuating redox soils, were the most responsive to the addition of TEAs, while the CF-FACs were overall more efficient and productive, both on a per-gram switchgrass and a per-cell biomass basis. These results suggest that decomposing microbial communities in fluctuating redox environments are adapted to the presence of a diversity of TEAs and ready to take advantage of them. More importantly, these data highlight the role of local environmental conditions in shaping microbial community function that may be separate from phylogenetic structure.
After multiple transfers, we established microbial consortia derived from two tropical forest soils with different native redox conditions. Communities derived from the rapidly fluctuating redox environment maintained a capacity to use added terminal electron acceptors (TEAs) after multiple transfers, though they were not present during the enrichment. Communities derived from lower-redox soils were not responsive to TEA addition but were much more efficient at switchgrass decomposition. Though the communities were different, diversity was not, and both were dominated by many of the same species of clostridia. This reflects the inadequacy of rRNA for determining the function of microbial communities, in this case the retained ability to utilize TEAs that were not part of the selective growth conditions. More importantly, this suggests that microbial community function is shaped by life history, where environmental factors produce heritable traits through natural selection over time, creating variation in the community, a phenomenon not well documented for microbes.
PMCID: PMC3374387  PMID: 22354956
23.  Glycoside Hydrolase Activities of Thermophilic Bacterial Consortia Adapted to Switchgrass ▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(16):5804-5812.
Industrial-scale biofuel production requires robust enzymatic cocktails to produce fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic biomass. Thermophilic bacterial consortia are a potential source of cellulases and hemicellulases adapted to harsher reaction conditions than commercial fungal enzymes. Compost-derived microbial consortia were adapted to switchgrass at 60°C to develop thermophilic biomass-degrading consortia for detailed studies. Microbial community analysis using small-subunit rRNA gene amplicon pyrosequencing and short-read metagenomic sequencing demonstrated that thermophilic adaptation to switchgrass resulted in low-diversity bacterial consortia with a high abundance of bacteria related to thermophilic paenibacilli, Rhodothermus marinus, and Thermus thermophilus. At lower abundance, thermophilic Chloroflexi and an uncultivated lineage of the Gemmatimonadetes phylum were observed. Supernatants isolated from these consortia had high levels of xylanase and endoglucanase activities. Compared to commercial enzyme preparations, the endoglucanase enzymes had a higher thermotolerance and were more stable in the presence of 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate ([C2mim][OAc]), an ionic liquid used for biomass pretreatment. The supernatants were used to saccharify [C2mim][OAc]-pretreated switchgrass at elevated temperatures (up to 80°C), demonstrating that these consortia are an excellent source of enzymes for the development of enzymatic cocktails tailored to more extreme reaction conditions.
PMCID: PMC3165268  PMID: 21724886
25.  Dynamics of Microbial Community Composition and Function during In Situ Bioremediation of a Uranium-Contaminated Aquifer▿‡ 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2011;77(11):3860-3869.
A pilot-scale system was established to examine the feasibility of in situ U(VI) immobilization at a highly contaminated aquifer (U.S. DOE Integrated Field Research Challenge site, Oak Ridge, TN). Ethanol was injected intermittently as an electron donor to stimulate microbial U(VI) reduction, and U(VI) concentrations fell to below the Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standard (0.03 mg liter−1). Microbial communities from three monitoring wells were examined during active U(VI) reduction and maintenance phases with GeoChip, a high-density, comprehensive functional gene array. The overall microbial community structure exhibited a considerable shift over the remediation phases examined. GeoChip-based analysis revealed that Fe(III)-reducing bacterial (FeRB), nitrate-reducing bacterial (NRB), and sulfate-reducing bacterial (SRB) functional populations reached their highest levels during the active U(VI) reduction phase (days 137 to 370), in which denitrification and Fe(III) and sulfate reduction occurred sequentially. A gradual decrease in these functional populations occurred when reduction reactions stabilized, suggesting that these functional populations could play an important role in both active U(VI) reduction and maintenance of the stability of reduced U(IV). These results suggest that addition of electron donors stimulated the microbial community to create biogeochemical conditions favorable to U(VI) reduction and prevent the reduced U(IV) from reoxidation and that functional FeRB, SRB, and NRB populations within this system played key roles in this process.
PMCID: PMC3127627  PMID: 21498771

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