Metals other than Uranium Affected Microbial Community Composition in a Historical Uranium-Mining Site


Jana Sitte, Sylvia Löffler, Eva-Maria Burkhardt, Katherine C. Goldfarb, Georg Büchel, Terry C. Hazen, Kirsten Küsel


To understand the links between the long-term impact of uranium and other metals on microbial community composition, ground- and surface water-influenced soils varying greatly in uranium and metal concentrations were investigated at the former uranium-mining district in Ronneburg, Germany. A soil-based 16S PhyloChip approach revealed 2358 bacterial and 35 archaeal operational taxonomic units (OTU) within diverse phylogenetic groups with higher OTU numbers than at other uranium-contaminated sites, e.g., at Oak Ridge. Iron- and sulfate-reducing bacteria (FeRB and SRB), which have the potential to attenuate uranium and other metals by the enzymatic and/or abiotic reduction of metal ions, were found at all sites. Although soil concentrations of solid-phase uranium were high, ranging from 5 to 1569 μg·g (dry weight) soil(-1), redundancy analysis (RDA) and forward selection indicated that neither total nor bio-available uranium concentrations contributed significantly to the observed OTU distribution. Instead, microbial community composition appeared to be influenced more by redox potential. Bacterial communities were also influenced by bio-available manganese and total cobalt and cadmium concentrations. Bio-available cadmium impacted FeRB distribution while bio-available manganese and copper as well as solid-phase zinc concentrations in the soil affected SRB composition. Archaeal communities were influenced by the bio-available lead as well as total zinc and cobalt concentrations. These results suggest that (i) microbial richness was not impacted by heavy metals and radionuclides and that (ii) redox potential and secondary metal contaminants had the strongest effect on microbial community composition, as opposed to uranium, the primary source of contamination.

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Sitte J, Loffler S, Burkhardt EM, Goldfarb KC, Buchel G, Hazen TC, Kusel K. 2015. Metals other than uranium affected microbial community composition in a historical uranium-mining site. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 22:19326-19341.