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Featured article from geoscience journal

American Society for Microbiology
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2010, Vol 76, Issue 17, p. 5902-5910
Community Structure of Subsurface Biofilms in the Thermal Sulfidic Caves of Acquasanta Terme, Italy
Abstract:

We performed a microbial community analysis of biofilms inhabiting thermal (35 to 50°C) waters more than 60m below the ground surface near Acquasanta Terme, Italy. The groundwater hosting the biofilms has 400 to 830 mkM sulfide, <10 mkM O2, pH of 6.3 to 6.7, and specific conductivity of 8,500 to 10,500 mkS/cm. Based on the results of 16S rRNA gene cloning and fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH), the biofilms have low species richness, and lithoautotrophic (or possibly mixotrophic) Gamma- and Epsilonproteobacteria are the principle biofilm architects. Deltaproteobacteria sequences retrieved from the biofilms have <90% 16S rRNA similarity to their closest relatives in public databases and may represent novel sulfate-reducing bacteria. The Acquasanta biofilms share few species in common with Frasassi cave biofilms (13°C, 80 km distant) but have a similar community structure, with representatives in the same major clades. The ecological success of Sulfurovumales-group Epsilonproteobacteria in the Acquasanta biofilms is consistent with previous observations of their dominance in sulfidic cave waters with turbulent water flow and high dissolved sulfide/oxygen ratios.