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2000 Annual Science Report

Marine Biological Laboratory Reporting  |  JUL 1999 – JUN 2000

Eukaryote Biodiversity and Physiology at Acidic Extremes: Spain's Tinto River

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

This project aims to understand how microbial communities thrive under extreme conditions. Our study is based in the Tinto River located in southwestern Spain. The river is a high acid/metal environment with pH values between 2.0-2.5 and iron concentrations as high as 20 g/l. Algae contribute up to 65% of the total biomass of the community. This eukaryotic microbial community is understudied. Our project explores molecular eukaryotic diversity by looking at SSU rRNA genes and considers physiological adaptations allowing survival under pH extremes. Sequencing efforts have confirmed a strong algal component in the microbial community. Our molecular data reveal that certain biofilm-communities are dominated by phototrophs such as Chlamydomonad and Chrysophyte populations. Others are a complex assemblage of fungi, ciliate and flagellate populations. Still others are a combination of ciliate and diatom assemblages. Future work will focus on obtaining sequences from sediment samples from the Tinto and comparing sequence data with that from other acidic sites such as Davis Mine, an abandoned sulfuric acid mine in Massachusetts, and hot acidic furnas of the Azorean Islands. The physiology component of this project seeks to understand how pH-extremophiles maintain internal pH and whether there are different mechanisms by which internal pH is maintained by acidophiles. We have been making internal pH measurements using pH-sensitive indicators such as BCECF on algal cultures from the Tinto River. Our physiological experiments employ fluorescence ratio imaging and ion-selective probe technology accomplished at the single-cell level. Initial experiments conducted on cultures of Chlamydomonas sp. and Euglena sp. growing at pH 3 revealed striking differences between the two species. Our preliminary results show that Euglena sp. may have an internal pH below 6.5. In contrast, the internal pH of Chlamydomonas sp. appears nearer neutrality. The putative acidic values of Euglena sp. will be confirmed with alternative pH indicators.

    Linda Amaral Zettler
    Project Investigator

    Ricardo Amils
    Project Investigator

    Mitchell Sogin
    Project Investigator

    Peter Smith

    Felipe Gomez

    Katherine Hammar
    Research Staff

    Brendan Keenan
    Research Staff

    Objective 2.0
    Develop and test plausible pathways by which ancient counterparts of membrane systems, proteins and nucleic acids were synthesized from simpler precursors and assembled into protocells.

    Objective 4.0
    Expand and interpret the genomic database of a select group of key microorganisms in order to reveal the history and dynamics of evolution.

    Objective 6.0
    Define how ecophysiological processes structure microbial communities, influence their adaptation and evolution, and affect their detection on other planets.

    Objective 7.0
    Identify the environmental limits for life by examining biological adaptations to extremes in environmental conditions.

    Objective 8.0
    Search for evidence of ancient climates, extinct life and potential habitats for extant life on Mars.