Distribution of sulfate-reducing bacteria, O2, and H2S in photosynthetic biofilms determined by oligonucleotide probes and microelectrodes

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Journal Article
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 1993, 59 (11), pp. 3840 - 3849
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The vertical distribution of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in photosynthetic biofilms from the trickling filter of a sewage treatment plant was investigated with oligonucleotide probes binding to 16S rRNA. To demonstrate the effect of daylight and photosynthesis and thereby of increased oxygen penetration, we incubated two 4-mm-thick biofilm samples in darkness or exposed to light at natural intensity. Gradients of O2, H2S, and pH were examined with microelectrodes during incubation. The samples were subsequently frozen with liquid nitrogen and sliced on a cryomicrotome in 20- μm vertical slices. Fluorescent-dye-conjugated oligonucleotides were used as 'phylogenetic' probes to identify single cells in the slices. Oligonucleotide sequences were selected which were complementary to short sequence elements (16 to 20 nucleotides) within the 16S rRNA of sulfate-reducing bacteria. The probes were labeled with fluorescein or rhodamine derivatives for subsequent visualization by epifluorescence microscopy. Five probes were synthesized for eukaryotes, eubacteria, SRB (including most species of the δ group of purple bacteria), Desulfobacter spp., and a nonhybridizing control. The SRB were unevenly distributed in the biofilm, being present in all states from single scattered cells to dense clusters of several thousand cells. To quantify the vertical distribution of SRB, we counted cells along vertical transects through the biofilm. This was done in a blind experiment to ascertain the reliability of the staining. A negative correlation between the vertical distribution of positively stained SRB cells and the measured O2 profiles was found. The distribution differed in light- and dark-incubated samples presumably because of the different extensions of the oxic surface layer. In both cases the SRB were largely restricted to anoxic layers.
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