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1.  Thiomonas sp. CB2 is able to degrade urea and promote toxic metal precipitation in acid mine drainage waters supplemented with urea 
The acid mine drainage (AMD) in Carnoulès (France) is characterized by the presence of toxic metals such as arsenic. Several bacterial strains belonging to the Thiomonas genus, which were isolated from this AMD, are able to withstand these conditions. Their genomes carry several genomic islands (GEIs), which are known to be potentially advantageous in some particular ecological niches. This study focused on the role of the “urea island” present in the Thiomonas CB2 strain, which carry the genes involved in urea degradation processes. First, genomic comparisons showed that the genome of Thiomonas sp. CB2, which is able to degrade urea, contains a urea genomic island which is incomplete in the genome of other strains showing no urease activity. The urease activity of Thiomonas sp. CB2 enabled this bacterium to maintain a neutral pH in cell cultures in vitro and prevented the occurrence of cell death during the growth of the bacterium in a chemically defined medium. In AMD water supplemented with urea, the degradation of urea promotes iron, aluminum and arsenic precipitation. Our data show that ureC was expressed in situ, which suggests that the ability to degrade urea may be expressed in some Thiomonas strains in AMD, and that this urease activity may contribute to their survival in contaminated environments.
PMCID: PMC4585258  PMID: 26441922
aluminum; arsenic; adaptation; metabolomics; acid stress
2.  Novel and unexpected bacterial diversity in an arsenic-rich ecosystem revealed by culture-dependent approaches 
Biology Direct  2012;7:28.
Acid Mine Drainages (AMDs) are extreme environments characterized by very acid conditions and heavy metal contaminations. In these ecosystems, the bacterial diversity is considered to be low. Previous culture-independent approaches performed in the AMD of Carnoulès (France) confirmed this low species richness. However, very little is known about the cultured bacteria in this ecosystem. The aims of the study were firstly to apply novel culture methods in order to access to the largest cultured bacterial diversity, and secondly to better define the robustness of the community for 3 important functions: As(III) oxidation, cellulose degradation and cobalamine biosynthesis.
Despite the oligotrophic and acidic conditions found in AMDs, the newly designed media covered a large range of nutrient concentrations and a pH range from 3.5 to 9.8, in order to target also non-acidophilic bacteria. These approaches generated 49 isolates representing 19 genera belonging to 4 different phyla. Importantly, overall diversity gained 16 extra genera never detected in Carnoulès. Among the 19 genera, 3 were previously uncultured, one of them being novel in databases. This strategy increased the overall diversity in the Carnoulès sediment by 70% when compared with previous culture-independent approaches, as specific phylogenetic groups (e.g. the subclass Actinobacteridae or the order Rhizobiales) were only detected by culture. Cobalamin auxotrophy, cellulose degradation and As(III)-oxidation are 3 crucial functions in this ecosystem, and a previous meta- and proteo-genomic work attributed each function to only one taxon. Here, we demonstrate that other members of this community can also assume these functions, thus increasing the overall community robustness.
This work highlights that bacterial diversity in AMDs is much higher than previously envisaged, thus pointing out that the AMD system is functionally more robust than expected. The isolated bacteria may be part of the rare biosphere which remained previously undetected due to molecular biases. No matter their current ecological relevance, the exploration of the full diversity remains crucial to decipher the function and dynamic of any community. This work also underlines the importance to associate culture-dependent and -independent approaches to gain an integrative view of the community function.
This paper was reviewed by Sándor Pongor, Eugene V. Koonin and Brett Baker (nominated by Purificacion Lopez-Garcia).
PMCID: PMC3443666  PMID: 22963335
Acid mine drainage (AMD); Alkaliphilic bacteria; Neutrophilic bacteria; Functional redundancy; Rare biosphere; Uncultured bacteria; Molecular biases; Culture-dependent approaches; Actinobacteria; Bacterial diversity
4.  Amylases without known homologues discovered in an acid mine drainage: significance and impact 
Scientific Reports  2012;2:354.
Acid Mine Drainages (AMDs) are extreme environments characterized by acidic and oligotrophic conditions and by metal contaminations. A function-based screening of an AMD-derived metagenomic library led to the discovery and partial characterization of two non-homologous endo-acting amylases sharing no sequence similarity with any known amylase nor glycosidase. None carried known amylolytic domains, nor could be assigned to any GH-family. One amylase displayed no similarity with any known protein, whereas the second one was similar to TraC proteins involved in the bacterial type IV secretion system. According to the scarce similarities with known proteins, 3D-structure modelling using I-TASSER was unsuccessful. This study underlined the utility of a function-driven metagenomic approach to obtain a clearer image of the bacterial community enzymatic landscape. More generally, this work points out that screening for microorganisms or biomolecules in a priori incongruous environments could provide unconventional and new exciting ways for bioprospecting.
PMCID: PMC3319935  PMID: 22482035
5.  Deciphering the role of Paenibacillus strain Q8 in the organic matter recycling in the acid mine drainage of Carnoulès 
The recycling of the organic matter is a crucial function in any environment, especially in oligotrophic environments such as Acid Mine Drainages (AMDs). Polymer-degrading bacteria might play an important role in such ecosystem, at least by releasing by-products useful for the rest of the community. In this study, physiological, molecular and biochemical experiments were performed to decipher the role of a Paenibacillus strain isolated from the sediment of Carnoulès AMD.
Even though Paenibacillus sp. strain Q8 was isolated from an oligotrophic AMD showing an acidic pH, it developed under both acidic and alkaline conditions and showed a heterotrophic metabolism based on the utilization of a broad range of organic compounds. It resisted to numerous metallic stresses, particularly high arsenite (As(III)) concentrations (> 1,800 mg/L). Q8 was also able to efficiently degrade polymers such as cellulose, xylan and starch. Function-based screening of a Q8 DNA-library allowed the detection of 15 clones with starch-degrading activity and 3 clones with xylan-degrading activity. One clone positive for starch degradation carried a single gene encoding a "protein of unknown function". Amylolytic and xylanolytic activities were measured both in growing cells and with acellular extracts of Q8. The results showed the ability of Q8 to degrade both polymers under a broad pH range and high As(III) and As(V) concentrations. Activity measurements allowed to point out the constitutive expression of the amylase genes and the mainly inducible expression of the xylanase genes. PACE demonstrated the endo-acting activity of the amylases and the exo-acting activity of the xylanases.
AMDs have been studied for years especially with regard to interactions between bacteria and the inorganic compartment hosting them. To date, no study reported the role of microorganisms in the recycling of the organic matter. The present work suggests that the strain Q8 might play an important role in the community by recycling the scarce organic matter (cellulose, hemicellulose, starch...), especially when the conditions change. Furthermore, function-based screening of a Q8 DNA library allowed to assign an amylolytic function to a gene previously unknown. AMDs could be considered as a reservoir of genes with potential biotechnological properties.
PMCID: PMC3287962  PMID: 22305268
Paenibacillus; Functional redundancy; Acid Mine Drainage (AMD); Amylase; Xylanase; Polymer degradation; Organic matter; Function-based screening; Community function
6.  Structure, Function, and Evolution of the Thiomonas spp. Genome 
PLoS Genetics  2010;6(2):e1000859.
Bacteria of the Thiomonas genus are ubiquitous in extreme environments, such as arsenic-rich acid mine drainage (AMD). The genome of one of these strains, Thiomonas sp. 3As, was sequenced, annotated, and examined, revealing specific adaptations allowing this bacterium to survive and grow in its highly toxic environment. In order to explore genomic diversity as well as genetic evolution in Thiomonas spp., a comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) approach was used on eight different strains of the Thiomonas genus, including five strains of the same species. Our results suggest that the Thiomonas genome has evolved through the gain or loss of genomic islands and that this evolution is influenced by the specific environmental conditions in which the strains live.
Author Summary
Recent advances in the field of arsenic microbial metabolism have revealed that bacteria colonize a large panel of highly contaminated environments. Belonging to the order of Burkholderiales, Thiomonas strains are ubiquitous in arsenic-contaminated environments. The genome of one of them, i.e. Thiomonas sp. 3As, was deciphered and compared to the genome of several other Thiomonas strains. We found that their flexible gene pool evolved to allow both the surviving and growth in their peculiar environment. In particular, the acquisition by strains of the same species of different genomic islands conferred heavy metal resistance and metabolic idiosyncrasies. Our comparative genomic analyses suggest that the natural environment influences the genomic evolution of these bacteria. Importantly, these results highlight the genomic variability that may exist inside a taxonomic group, enlarging the concept of bacterial species.
PMCID: PMC2829063  PMID: 20195515
7.  Multiple controls affect arsenite oxidase gene expression in Herminiimonas arsenicoxydans 
BMC Microbiology  2010;10:53.
Both the speciation and toxicity of arsenic are affected by bacterial transformations, i.e. oxidation, reduction or methylation. These transformations have a major impact on environmental contamination and more particularly on arsenic contamination of drinking water. Herminiimonas arsenicoxydans has been isolated from an arsenic- contaminated environment and has developed various mechanisms for coping with arsenic, including the oxidation of As(III) to As(V) as a detoxification mechanism.
In the present study, a differential transcriptome analysis was used to identify genes, including arsenite oxidase encoding genes, involved in the response of H. arsenicoxydans to As(III). To get insight into the molecular mechanisms of this enzyme activity, a Tn5 transposon mutagenesis was performed. Transposon insertions resulting in a lack of arsenite oxidase activity disrupted aoxR and aoxS genes, showing that the aox operon transcription is regulated by the AoxRS two-component system. Remarkably, transposon insertions were also identified in rpoN coding for the alternative N sigma factor (σ54) of RNA polymerase and in dnaJ coding for the Hsp70 co-chaperone. Western blotting with anti-AoxB antibodies and quantitative RT-PCR experiments allowed us to demonstrate that the rpoN and dnaJ gene products are involved in the control of arsenite oxidase gene expression. Finally, the transcriptional start site of the aoxAB operon was determined using rapid amplification of cDNA ends (RACE) and a putative -12/-24 σ54-dependent promoter motif was identified upstream of aoxAB coding sequences.
These results reveal the existence of novel molecular regulatory processes governing arsenite oxidase expression in H. arsenicoxydans. These data are summarized in a model that functionally integrates arsenite oxidation in the adaptive response to As(III) in this microorganism.
PMCID: PMC2848651  PMID: 20167112
8.  Carbon and arsenic metabolism in Thiomonas strains: differences revealed diverse adaptation processes 
BMC Microbiology  2009;9:127.
Thiomonas strains are ubiquitous in arsenic-contaminated environments. Differences between Thiomonas strains in the way they have adapted and respond to arsenic have never been studied in detail. For this purpose, five Thiomonas strains, that are interesting in terms of arsenic metabolism were selected: T. arsenivorans, Thiomonas spp. WJ68 and 3As are able to oxidise As(III), while Thiomonas sp. Ynys1 and T. perometabolis are not. Moreover, T. arsenivorans and 3As present interesting physiological traits, in particular that these strains are able to use As(III) as an electron donor.
The metabolism of carbon and arsenic was compared in the five Thiomonas strains belonging to two distinct phylogenetic groups. Greater physiological differences were found between these strains than might have been suggested by 16S rRNA/rpoA gene phylogeny, especially regarding arsenic metabolism. Physiologically, T. perometabolis and Ynys1 were unable to oxidise As(III) and were less arsenic-resistant than the other strains. Genetically, they appeared to lack the aox arsenic-oxidising genes and carried only a single ars arsenic resistance operon. Thiomonas arsenivorans belonged to a distinct phylogenetic group and increased its autotrophic metabolism when arsenic concentration increased. Differential proteomic analysis revealed that in T. arsenivorans, the rbc/cbb genes involved in the assimilation of inorganic carbon were induced in the presence of arsenic, whereas these genes were repressed in Thiomonas sp. 3As.
Taken together, these results show that these closely related bacteria differ substantially in their response to arsenic, amongst other factors, and suggest different relationships between carbon assimilation and arsenic metabolism.
PMCID: PMC2720973  PMID: 19549320
9.  Diversity Surveys and Evolutionary Relationships of aoxB Genes in Aerobic Arsenite-Oxidizing Bacteria▿ †  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2008;74(14):4567-4573.
A new primer set was designed to specifically amplify ca. 1,100 bp of aoxB genes encoding the As(III) oxidase catalytic subunit from taxonomically diverse aerobic As(III)-oxidizing bacteria. Comparative analysis of AoxB protein sequences showed variable conservation levels and highlighted the conservation of essential amino acids and structural motifs. AoxB phylogeny of pure strains showed well-discriminated taxonomic groups and was similar to 16S rRNA phylogeny. Alphaproteobacteria-, Betaproteobacteria-, and Gammaproteobacteria-related sequences were retrieved from environmental surveys, demonstrating their prevalence in mesophilic As-contaminated soils. Our study underlines the usefulness of the aoxB gene as a functional marker of aerobic As(III) oxidizers.
PMCID: PMC2493162  PMID: 18502920
10.  A Tale of Two Oxidation States: Bacterial Colonization of Arsenic-Rich Environments 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(4):e53.
Microbial biotransformations have a major impact on contamination by toxic elements, which threatens public health in developing and industrial countries. Finding a means of preserving natural environments—including ground and surface waters—from arsenic constitutes a major challenge facing modern society. Although this metalloid is ubiquitous on Earth, thus far no bacterium thriving in arsenic-contaminated environments has been fully characterized. In-depth exploration of the genome of the β-proteobacterium Herminiimonas arsenicoxydans with regard to physiology, genetics, and proteomics, revealed that it possesses heretofore unsuspected mechanisms for coping with arsenic. Aside from multiple biochemical processes such as arsenic oxidation, reduction, and efflux, H. arsenicoxydans also exhibits positive chemotaxis and motility towards arsenic and metalloid scavenging by exopolysaccharides. These observations demonstrate the existence of a novel strategy to efficiently colonize arsenic-rich environments, which extends beyond oxidoreduction reactions. Such a microbial mechanism of detoxification, which is possibly exploitable for bioremediation applications of contaminated sites, may have played a crucial role in the occupation of ancient ecological niches on earth.
Author Summary
Microorganisms play a crucial role in nutrient biogeochemical cycles. Arsenic is found throughout the environment from both natural and anthropogenic sources. Its inorganic forms are highly toxic and impair the physiology of most higher organisms. Arsenic contamination of groundwater supplies is giving rise to increasingly severe human health problems in both developing and industrial countries. In the present work, we investigated the metabolism of this metalloid in Herminiimonas arsenicoxydans, a representative organism of a novel bacterial genus widespread in aquatic environments. Examination of the genome sequence and experimental evidence revealed that it is remarkably capable of coping with arsenic. Our observations support the existence of multiple strategies allowing arsenic-metabolizing microbes to efficiently colonize toxic environments. In particular, arsenic oxidation and scavenging may have played a crucial role in the development of early stages of life on Earth. Such mechanisms may one day be exploited as part of a potential bioremediation strategy in toxic environments.
PMCID: PMC1851979  PMID: 17432936
11.  Arsenite Oxidase aox Genes from a Metal-Resistant β-Proteobacterium 
Journal of Bacteriology  2003;185(1):135-141.
The β-proteobacterial strain ULPAs1, isolated from an arsenic-contaminated environment, is able to efficiently oxidize arsenite [As(III)] to arsenate [As(V)]. Mutagenesis with a lacZ-based reporter transposon yielded two knockout derivatives deficient in arsenite oxidation. Sequence analysis of the DNA flanking the transposon insertions in the two mutants identified two adjacent open reading frames, named aoxA and aoxB, as well as a putative promoter upstream of the aoxA gene. Reverse transcription-PCR data indicated that these genes are organized in an operonic structure. The proteins encoded by aoxA and aoxB share 64 and 72% identity with the small Rieske subunit and the large subunit of the purified and crystallized arsenite oxidase of Alcaligenes faecalis, respectively (P. J. Ellis, T. Conrads, R. Hille, and P. Kuhn, Structure [Cambridge] 9:125-132, 2001). Importantly, almost all amino acids involved in cofactor interactions in both subunits of the A. faecalis enzyme were conserved in the corresponding sequences of strain ULPAs1. An additional Tat (twin-arginine translocation) signal peptide sequence was detected at the N terminus of the protein encoded by aoxA, strongly suggesting that the Tat pathway is involved in the translocation of the arsenite oxidase to its known periplasmic location.
PMCID: PMC141815  PMID: 12486049

Results 1-11 (11)