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      Environmental transcriptome analysis reveals physiological differences between biofilm and planktonic modes of life of the iron oxidizing bacteria Leptospirillum spp. in their natural microbial community

      1 , 1 , 1 , , 1

      BMC Genomics

      BioMed Central

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          Extreme acidic environments are characterized by their high metal content and lack of nutrients (oligotrophy). Macroscopic biofilms and filaments usually grow on the water-air interface or under the stream attached to solid substrates (streamers). In the Río Tinto (Spain), brown filaments develop under the water stream where the Gram-negative iron-oxidizing bacteria Leptospirillum spp. ( L. ferrooxidans and L. ferriphilum) and Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans are abundant. These microorganisms play a critical role in bioleaching processes for industrial (biominery) and environmental applications (acid mine drainage, bioremediation). The aim of this study was to investigate the physiological differences between the free living (planktonic) and the sessile (biofilm associated) lifestyles of Leptospirillum spp. as part of its natural extremely acidophilic community.


          Total RNA extracted from environmental samples was used to determine the composition of the metabolically active members of the microbial community and then to compare the biofilm and planktonic environmental transcriptomes by hybridizing to a genomic microarray of L. ferrooxidans. Genes up-regulated in the filamentous biofilm are involved in cellular functions related to biofilm formation and maintenance, such as: motility and quorum sensing ( mqsR, cheAY, fliA, motAB), synthesis of cell wall structures ( lnt, murA, murB), specific proteases ( clpX/clpP), stress response chaperons ( clpB, clpC, grpE-dnaKJ, groESL), etc. Additionally, genes involved in mixed acid fermentation ( poxB, ackA) were up-regulated in the biofilm. This result, together with the presence of small organic acids like acetate and formate (1.36 mM and 0.06 mM respectively) in the acidic (pH 1.8) water stream, suggests that either L. ferrooxidans or other member of the microbial community are producing acetate in the acidophilic biofilm under microaerophilic conditions.


          Our results indicate that the acidophilic filaments are dynamic structures in which different mechanisms for biofilm formation/dispersion are operating. Specific transcriptomic fingerprints can be inferred for both planktonic and sessile cells, having the former a more active TCA cycle, while the mixed acid fermentation process dominate in the latter. The excretion of acetate may play a relevant ecological role as a source of electron donor for heterotrophic Fe 3+ reducers like some Alphaproteobacteria, Acidobacterium spp. and Sulfobacillus spp., also present in the biofilm. Additionally, acetate may have a negative effect on bioleaching by inhibiting the growth of chemolithotrophic bacteria.

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          Most cited references 51

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          The GLIMMER system for microbial gene identification finds approximately 97-98% of all genes in a genome when compared with published annotation. This paper reports on two new results: (i) significant technical improvements to GLIMMER that improve its accuracy still further, and (ii) a comprehensive evaluation that demonstrates that the accuracy of the system is likely to be higher than previously recognized. A significant proportion of the genes missed by the system appear to be hypothetical proteins whose existence is only supported by the predictions of other programs. When the analysis is restricted to genes that have significant homology to genes in other organisms, GLIMMER misses <1% of known genes.
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            Normalization for cDNA microarray data: a robust composite method addressing single and multiple slide systematic variation.

             Y. H. Yang (2002)
            There are many sources of systematic variation in cDNA microarray experiments which affect the measured gene expression levels (e.g. differences in labeling efficiency between the two fluorescent dyes). The term normalization refers to the process of removing such variation. A constant adjustment is often used to force the distribution of the intensity log ratios to have a median of zero for each slide. However, such global normalization approaches are not adequate in situations where dye biases can depend on spot overall intensity and/or spatial location within the array. This article proposes normalization methods that are based on robust local regression and account for intensity and spatial dependence in dye biases for different types of cDNA microarray experiments. The selection of appropriate controls for normalization is discussed and a novel set of controls (microarray sample pool, MSP) is introduced to aid in intensity-dependent normalization. Lastly, to allow for comparisons of expression levels across slides, a robust method based on maximum likelihood estimation is proposed to adjust for scale differences among slides.
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              Microbial biofilms.

              Direct observations have clearly shown that biofilm bacteria predominate, numerically and metabolically, in virtually all nutrient-sufficient ecosystems. Therefore, these sessile organisms predominate in most of the environmental, industrial, and medical problems and processes of interest to microbiologists. If biofilm bacteria were simply planktonic cells that had adhered to a surface, this revelation would be unimportant, but they are demonstrably and profoundly different. We first noted that biofilm cells are at least 500 times more resistant to antibacterial agents. Now we have discovered that adhesion triggers the expression of a sigma factor that derepresses a large number of genes so that biofilm cells are clearly phenotypically distinct from their planktonic counterparts. Each biofilm bacterium lives in a customized microniche in a complex microbial community that has primitive homeostasis, a primitive circulatory system, and metabolic cooperativity, and each of these sessile cells reacts to its special environment so that it differs fundamentally from a planktonic cell of the same species.

                Author and article information

                [1 ]Department of Molecular Evolution, Centro de Astrobiología (INTA-CSIC), Carretera de Ajalvir km 4, Torrejón de Ardoz, 28850 Madrid, Spain
                BMC Genomics
                BMC Genomics
                BioMed Central
                24 June 2010
                : 11
                : 404
                Copyright ©2010 Moreno-Paz et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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