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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Subsurface landfill leachate contamination affects microbial metabolic potential and gene expression in the Banisveld aquifer.


Microbial communities in groundwater ecosystems can develop the capacity to degrade complex mixtures of chemicals resulting from pollution by landfill leachate. Monitoring this natural attenuation requires insight into the metabolic potential and activity of microbial communities. We contrasted the metagenomes and metatranscriptomes from a leachate-polluted aquifer downstream of the Banisveld (the Netherlands) landfill with uncontaminated groundwater, which revealed changes in microbial genomic content and activity. Banisveld landfill leachate contains mono-aromatic hydrocarbons and the assessment of natural attenuation of these compounds in the aquifer had been a focal point of research. In the contaminated groundwater, active microbial functions were the ones involved in degradation of complex carbon substrates and organic pollutants. We found that benzylsuccinate synthase genes-involved in the catabolism of toluene-were highly expressed close to the source of contamination, confirming the ongoing natural attenuation of organic mono-aromatic hydrocarbon pollution in this aquifer. Additionally, metatranscriptomes were indicative of phosphorus limitation that can constrain total microbial activity and agree with the low phosphate concentrations (<0.4 μmol/L) in this aquifer. Through the application of metagenomics and metatranscriptomics, we were able to determine functional potential and expression patterns to assess the natural attenuation processes and constraints on microbial communities.

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