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Influence of linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) on the structure of Alphaproteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Acidobacteria communities in a soil microcosm

Sánchez-Peinado, Mª del Mar, González-López, Jesús, Martínez-Toledo, Mª Victoria, Pozo, Clementina, Rodelas, Belén
Environmental science and pollution research international 2010 v.17 no.3 pp. 779-790
Acidobacteria, Actinobacteria, Bradyrhizobiaceae, Brucellaceae, Hyphomicrobiaceae, Methylocystaceae, Phenylobacterium, Rhizobiaceae, Rhodospirillaceae, aerobic conditions, agricultural soils, anaerobic conditions, bacterial communities, chemical analysis, cluster analysis, community structure, databases, denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, fertilizers, genes, marine sediments, monitoring, nutrients, polluted soils, polymerase chain reaction, ribosomal RNA, risk assessment, sequence analysis, sewage sludge, soil ecology, toxicity, toxicity testing, wastewater treatment
Background, aim, and scope Linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) is the most used anionic surfactant in a worldwide scale and is considered a high-priority pollutant. LAS is regarded as a readily biodegradable product under aerobic conditions in aqueous media and is mostly removed in wastewater treatment plants, but an important fraction (20-25%) is immobilized in sewage sludge and persists under anoxic conditions. Due to the application of the sludge as a fertilizer, LAS reaches agricultural soil, and therefore, microbial toxicity tests have been widely used to evaluate the influence of LAS on soil microbial ecology. However, molecular-based community-level analyses have been seldom applied in studies regarding the effects of LAS on natural or engineered systems, and, to our knowledge, there are no reports of their use for such appraisals in agricultural soil. In this study, a microcosm system is used to evaluate the effects of a commercial mixture of LAS on the community structure of Alphaproteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Acidobacteria in an agricultural soil. Material and methods The microcosms consisted of agricultural soil columns (800 g) fed with sterile water (8 ml h⁻¹) added of different concentration of LAS (10 or 50 mg l⁻¹) for periods of time up to 21 days. Sterile water was added to control columns for comparison. The structures of Alphaproteobacteria, Actinobacteria, and Acidobacteria communities were analyzed by a cultivation independent method (temperature gradient gel electrophoresis (TGGE) separation of polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplified partial 16S rRNA genes). Relevant populations were identified by subsequent reamplification, DNA sequencing, and database comparisons. Results Cluster analysis of the TGGE fingerprints taking into consideration both the number of bands and their relative intensities revealed that the structure of the Alphaproteobacteria community was significantly changed in the presence of LAS, at both concentrations tested. The average number of bands was significantly lower in the microcosms receiving 50 mg l⁻¹ LAS and in the lower portion of soil cores. The clear differentiation of the samples of the upper portion of the soil columns amended with LAS was specifically related to the presence and intensity of a distinctive major band (named band class 7). There was a statistically significant positive correlation between the concentrations of LAS detected in soil portions taken from LAS 10 mg l⁻¹ and LAS 50 mg l⁻¹ microcosms and the relative intensity of band class 7 in the corresponding TGGE profiles. Prevalent Alphaproteobacteria populations in the soil microcosms had close similarity (>99%) to cultivated species affiliated to genera of the Rhizobiaceae, Methylocystaceae, Hyphomicrobiaceae, Rhodospirillaceae, Brucellaceae, Bradyrhizobiaceae, and Caulobacteraceae families. The population represented by band class 7 was found closely related to the genus Phenylobacterium (Caulobacteraceae). According to cluster analysis of TGGE profiles, the structure of both Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria communities in the soil microcosms was remarkably stable in the presence of LAS at the two concentrations tested, as most bands were universally present in all samples and displayed fairly similar relative intensities. Discussion Previous studies by others authors, based on biological and chemical tests, concluded that LAS toxicity was not an important microbial selection factor in sludge amended soil, while work based on the use of molecular fingerprinting to evaluate the impact of LAS in aqueous media and marine sediments showed that concentrations as low as 1 mg l⁻¹ significantly influence the development of the bacterial community structure. Although TGGE is not a strictly quantitative method due to the bias introduced by the PCR reaction, changes of band intensity through experiments are a consequence of a change in the relative abundance of the corresponding populations in the community and can be used as a semiquantitative measure of bacterial diversity. Our results evidence that the Phenylobacterium population represented by band class 7 was favored by the presence of increasing concentrations of LAS in the soil and turned into a dominant population, suggesting its possible ability to use LAS in soil as a source of nutrients. As studies with pure cultures are required to confirm the ability of this population to degrade LAS, isolation strategies are currently under development in our laboratory. The weak effect of LAS on the structure of Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria communities is particularly interesting, as to our knowledge, there are no previous reports regarding the effects of LAS on these bacterial groups in soil. Conclusions, recommendations, and perspectives The Phenylobacterium-related alphaproteobacterial population identified in this work was selectively enriched in LAS polluted soil and is a plausible candidate to play a relevant role in the biotransformation of the surfactant under the conditions tested. The surfactant had no remarkable effects on the Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria fingerprints in soil, even when present at concentrations widely exceeding those reached in soil immediately after sludge application. TGGE fingerprinting provides a reliable and low time-consuming method for the monitoring of the bacterial community structure and dynamics, and we recommend its integration with the biological and chemical analyses usually applied in risk assessment of LAS in the environment.