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Evolution of Microbial “Streamer” Growths in an Acidic, Metal-Contaminated Stream Draining an Abandoned Underground Copper Mine

Author(s): Catherine M. Kay | Owen F. Rowe | Laura Rocchetti | Kris Coupland | Kevin B. Hallberg | D. Barrie Johnson

Journal: Life
ISSN 2075-1729

Volume: 3;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 189;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: Acidithiobacillus | acid mine drainage (AMD) | acid streamers | Actinobacteria | Ferrovum | iron oxidation | microbial communities

A nine year study was carried out on the evolution of macroscopic “acid streamer” growths in acidic, metal-rich mine water from the point of construction of a new channel to drain an abandoned underground copper mine. The new channel became rapidly colonized by acidophilic bacteria: two species of autotrophic iron-oxidizers (Acidithiobacillus ferrivorans and “Ferrovum myxofaciens”) and a heterotrophic iron-oxidizer (a novel genus/species with the proposed name “Acidithrix ferrooxidans”). The same bacteria dominated the acid streamer communities for the entire nine year period, with the autotrophic species accounting for ~80% of the micro-organisms in the streamer growths (as determined by terminal restriction enzyme fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis). Biodiversity of the acid streamers became somewhat greater in time, and included species of heterotrophic acidophiles that reduce ferric iron (Acidiphilium, Acidobacterium, Acidocella and gammaproteobacterium WJ2) and other autotrophic iron-oxidizers (Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans and Leptospirillum ferrooxidans). The diversity of archaea in the acid streamers was far more limited; relatively few clones were obtained, all of which were very distantly related to known species of euryarchaeotes. Some differences were apparent between the acid streamer community and planktonic-phase bacteria. This study has provided unique insights into the evolution of an extremophilic microbial community, and identified several novel species of acidophilic prokaryotes.

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