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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Comparative Metagenomics of Freshwater Microbial Communities


Previous analyses of a microbial metagenome from uranium and nitric-acid contaminated groundwater (FW106) showed significant environmental effects resulting from the rapid introduction of multiple contaminants. Effects include a massive loss of species and strain biodiversity, accumulation of toxin resistant genes in the metagenome and lateral transfer of toxin resistance genes between community members. To better understand these results in an ecological context, a second metagenome from a pristine groundwater system located along the same geological strike was sequenced and analyzed (FW301). It is hypothesized that FW301 approximates the ancestral FW106 community based on phylogenetic profiles and common geological parameters; however, even if is not the case, the datasets still permit comparisons between healthy and stressed groundwater ecosystems. Complex carbohydrate metabolism has been almost entirely lost in the stressed ecosystem. In contrast, the pristine system encodes a wide diversity of complex carbohydrate metabolism systems, suggesting that carbon turnover is very rapid and less leaky in the healthy groundwater system. FW301 encodes many (~;;160+) carbon monoxide dehydrogenase genes while FW106 encodes none. This result suggests that the community is frequently exposed to oxygen from aerated rainwater percolating into the subsurface, with a resulting high rate of carbon metabolism and CO production. When oxygen levels fall, the CO then serves as a major carbon source for the community. FW301 appears to be capable of CO2 fixation via the reductive carboxylase (reverse TCA) cycle and possibly acetogenesis, activities; these activities are lacking in the heterotrophic FW106 system which relies exclusively on respiration of nitrate and/or oxygen for energy production. FW301 encodes a complete set of B12 biosynthesis pathway at high abundance suggesting the use of sodium gradients for energy production in the healthy groundwater community. Overall comparative analysis suggests that the introduction of contaminants is accompanied by a decrease in biodiversity, loss of nutrient cycling, less metabolic diversity, increased respiration and dominance by r-strategists. These results are consistent with trends predicted for stressed ecosystems.

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