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Investigation of a Sulfur-Utilizing Perchlorate-Reducing Bacterial Consortium

We present research investigating how, with in depth knowledge of the community, microbial communities may be harnessed for bioremediation of hazardous water contaminants. We focused on the bacterial reduction of perchlorate, a common water contaminant. For this we studied the structure and capabilities of a novel sulfur-utilizing, perchlorate-reducing bacterial (SUPeRB) consortium. Initially, we characterized the minimal consortium that retained functional capabilities, using 16S rRNA and functional gene analysis. A diverse functional consortium dominated by Beta-Proteobacteria of the family Rhodocyclaceae and sulfur-oxidizing Epsilon-Proteobacteria was found. We also examined the optimal growth conditions under which perchlorate degradation occurred and uncovered the upper limits of this function. Bacterial isolates were screened for function and the presence of functional genes. We expanded to bioreactor studies at bench- and pilot-scale, and first used a perchlorate-reducing, bench-scale bioreactor to probe the stability of the microbial ecosystem. During stable reactor function, a core consortium of Beta- and Epsilon-Proteobacteria reduced perchlorate and the co-contaminant nitrate. A disturbance of the vi consortium led to a failure in function and to higher system diversity. This suggests that the SUPeRB consortium was not metabolically flexible and high population diversity was necessary for a return to stable function. In a pilot-scale bioreactor we determined that the SUPeRB consortium could stably degrade low levels of perchlorate to below the EPA maximum recommended limit. Field conditions, such as temperature extremes and intermittent perchlorate feed, did not negatively impact overall function. When all reactor consortia were compared we observed that the volume of the reactor and the initial inoculum were not as important to stable reactor function as the acclimatization of the consortium to the system and maintenance of favorable conditions within the reactor. In summary we found that the SUPeRB consortium successfully degraded perchlorate in multiple systems. The study of this novel consortium expands our knowledge of the metabolic capabilities of perchlorate-reducing bacteria and suggests potential evolutionary pathways for perchlorate-reduction by microorganisms. The SUPeRB consortium may be used to establish bioremediation systems for perchlorate and other environmental contaminants.
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