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Mar 17, 2015
The ISME Journal
A fundamental question in microbial ecology relates to community structure, and how this varies across environment types. It is widely believed that some environments, such as those at very low pH, host simple communities based on the low number of taxa, possibly due to the extreme environmental conditions. However, most analyses of species richness have relied on methods that provide relatively low ribosomal RNA (rRNA) sampling depth. Here we used community transcriptomics to analyze the microbial diversity of natural acid mine drainage biofilms from the Richmond Mine at Iron Mountain, California. Our analyses target deep pools of rRNA gene transcripts recovered from both natural and laboratory-grown biofilms across varying developmental stages. In all, 91.8% of the ∼ 254 million Illumina reads mapped to rRNA genes represented in the SILVA database. Up to 159 different taxa, including Bacteria, Archaea and Eukaryotes, were identified. Diversity measures, ordination and hierarchical clustering separate environmental from laboratory-grown biofilms. In part, this is due to the much larger number of rare members in the environmental biofilms. Although Leptospirillum bacteria generally dominate biofilms, we detect a wide variety of other Nitrospira organisms present at very low abundance. Bacteria from the Chloroflexi phylum were also detected. The results indicate that the primary characteristic that has enabled prior extensive cultivation-independent 'omic' analyses is not simplicity but rather the high dominance by a few taxa. We conclude that a much larger variety of organisms than previously thought have adapted to this extreme environment, although only few are selected for at any one time.

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