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Title: Final Technical Report: Viral Infection of Subsurface Microorganisms and Metal/Radionuclide Transport

Microbially mediated metabolisms have been identified as a significant factor either directly or indirectly impacting the fate and transport of heavy metal/radionuclide contaminants. To date microorganisms have been isolated from contaminated environments. Examination of annotated finished genome sequences of many of these subsurface isolates from DOE sites, revealed evidence of prior viral infection. To date the role that viruses play influencing microbial mortality and the resulting community structure which directly influences biogeochemical cycling in soils and sedimentary environments remains poorly understood. The objective of this exploratory study was to investigate the role of viral infection of subsurface bacteria and the formation of contaminant-bearing viral particles. This objective was approached by examining the following working hypotheses: (i) subsurface microorganisms are susceptible to viral infections by the indigenous subsurface viral community, and (ii) viral surfaces will adsorb heavy metals and radionuclides. Our results have addressed basic research needed to accomplish the BER Long Term Measure to provide sufficient scientific understanding such that DOE sites would be able to incorporate coupled physical, chemical and biological processes into decision making for environmental remediation or natural attenuation and long-term stewardship by establishing viral-microbial relationships on the subsequent fate and transport of heavy metals and radionuclides.more » Here we demonstrated that viruses play a significant role in microbial mortality and community structure in terrestrial subsurface sedimentary systems. The production of viral-like particles within subsurface sediments in response to biostimulation with dissolved organic carbon and a terminal electron acceptor resulted in the production of viral-like particles. Organic carbon alone did not result in significant viral production and required the addition of a terminal electron acceptor (nitrate), indicating that nutrients are not limiting viral production, but rather substrates that can be converted into energy for host metabolism. Our results also revealed that cell abundance was not correlated to the mineralization of organic carbon, but rather viruses were positively correlated with carbon mineralization. This is a result of viral-mediated cell lysis and demonstrates that viruses are sensitive indicators of microbial activity. Viruses as an indicator of microbial activity was not unique to batch culture studies as results obtained from an in situ field experiment conducted at the DOE Old Rifle Field site. This study revealed that viral abundance increased in response to the injection of oxygenated groundwater and influx of dissolved organic carbon whereas cell abundance changes were minimal. However, the extent to which viral-mediated cell lysis alters organic matter pools subsequently influencing microbial community structure and biogeochemical function remains a critical question in subsurface biogeochemical cycling. The production of significant numbers of viruses in groundwater has implications for nanoparticulate metal as well as carbon transport in groundwater. We have demonstrated that the virus surface is reactive and will adsorb heavy metals. Thus viruses can promote colloidal contaminant mobility. Interestingly, the presence of heavy metals has a positive effect on infectivity of the phage, increasing phage infection which could lead to further production of viruses. Together, the results indicate that the sorption of metals to the surface of viruses could not only contribute to nanoparticulate metal as well as carbon transport but could also enhance infectivity further contributing to cell lysis which could subsequently influence biogeochemical cycling. As more viruses infect host microbial populations the high concentration of metals would enhance infection, resulting in cell lysis, and decreasing the metabolically active host population while yielding greater numbers of viruses capable of transporting contaminats. Additional studies will be necessary to further establish the potential relationship(s) between viruses, cells, carbon, and metals/radionuclides to provide sufficient scientific understanding to incorporate coupled physical, chemical, and biological processes into agent based and reactive transport models.« less
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Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC)
Country of Publication:
United States
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; virus, microbial ecology, biogeochemistry, carbon cycling, contaminant transport