Project

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Microbial communities inherent to karstic aquifers - ecological driving forces in the depth

English title Microbial communities inherent to karstic aquifers - ecological driving forces in the depth
Applicant Wilhartitz Inés
Number 131851
Funding scheme Ambizione
Research institution Abteilung für Umweltmikrobiologie EAWAG
Institution of higher education Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology - EAWAG
Main discipline Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Start/End 01.05.2011 - 31.10.2014
Approved amount 541'571.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Discipline
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Molecular Biology
Ecology

Keywords (5)

groundwater; karst aquifers; microbial communities; metagenomics; environmental proteomics

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
About 25 % of the global population is depending on drinking water from karstic groundwater resources. Consequently, alpine karst research has to provide the basic scientific understanding which enables to take all necessary steps for long term maintaining of the ecological integrity of the respective alpine catchment areas.

The proposed study will be the first comprehensive attempt to establish an ultra-deep sequencing framework of autochthonous karstic aquifer communities in the Central European Region. Arising from earlier results, the hypothesis of a distinct assemblage of autochthonous microbial endokarst communities (AMEC), reflecting hydrogeology and lithological composition of an aquifer, has the potential to blaze the way for a plethora of questions, ranging from evolutionary aspects and survival strategies to speculations about endemic subsurface communities. The rapid development in high throughput parallel sequencing approaches and novel tools like total community divergence measures, now allow to verify and expand the AMEC-concept by comparing autochthonous aquifer communities on a regional scale. However, microbial communities present in alpine karst aquifers sometimes have to withstand tremendous changes of environmental parameters such as water levels and nutrient availability. Microbes overcome these challenges often by altering their protein expression profiles but not by immediate genomic rearrangements. Consequently, the mere study of individual genes and their regulation is not sufficient to fully understand microbial adaptation strategies and post-genomic analyses such as proteomics is urgently needed to investigate structure and physiology of complex microbial consortia at a molecular level.

This study aims at building the base for a robust eco-phylogenetic framework in the karstic subsurface at an unprecedented resolution. It will furthermore use in situ and lab experiments to shed light on interactions between attached autochthonous communities and the prevailing hydrogeological conditions. A multi-parametric statistical approach including a wealth of lithological, hydrological, chemical and microbiological background data will put the results in a broader context and establish a basis for pointed research questions in karstic groundwater environments that will reach far beyond the Central European Region. Thereby, this project will not only be groundbreaking for basic research in the relatively young field of environmental microbiology, but it will also be important for sustainable water resource management and provide fundamental data for eco-toxicology and risk assessment in groundwater aquifers.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Name Institute

Employees

Name Institute

Publications

Publication
Comparative evaluation of protein extraction protocols
Keiblinger Katharina, Wilhartitz Inés, Schneider Thomas, Roschitzki Bernd, Schmid Emanuel, Eberl Leo, Riedel Kathrin, Zechmeister-Boltenstein Sophie, Comparative evaluation of protein extraction protocols, in Soil Biology and Biochemistry.
Dynamics of natural prokaryotes, viruses and heterotrophic nanoflagellates inalpine karstic groundwater
Wilhartitz Inés, Brussaard Corina, Kirschner Alexander, Stadler Hermann, Fischer Ulrike, Wieltschnik Claudia, Farnleitner Andreas, Dynamics of natural prokaryotes, viruses and heterotrophic nanoflagellates inalpine karstic groundwater, in MicrobiologyOpen.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
ISME15 Poster Ecological significance of biogeographical patterns of microbial communities in alpine aquifers 25.08.2014 Seoul, Korean Republic (South Korea) Wilhartitz Inés;
MRI – Mountain Research Initiative Talk given at a conference Microbial ecology in alpine karstic aquifers – unique ecosystem and important drinking water resource 24.06.2013 Mittersill, Austria Wilhartitz Inés;
ISME Talk given at a conference Origin and amount of assimilable organic carbon in alpine karst aquifers 19.08.2012 Copenhagen, Denmark, Denmark Wilhartitz Inés;
International Symposium of Subsurface Microbiology Individual talk Elucidating the microbiology of alpine karst spring aquifers 19.09.2011 Garmisch, Germany Wilhartitz Inés;


Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
MRI – Mountain Research Initiative 10.06.2013 Mittersill, Austria Wilhartitz Inés;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Kläranlage im Untergrund Tagesanzeiger German-speaking Switzerland 2014
Media relations: print media, online media Examining underground microbial communities International Innovation International 2013

Awards

Title Year
Neptun Wasserpreis 2013 (österreichische Umwelt- und Innovationspreis zum Thema Wasser) 2013

Abstract

About 25% of the global population is depending on drinking water from karstic groundwater resources. Consequently, alpine karst research has to provide the basic scientific understanding which enables to take all necessary steps for long term maintaining of the ecological integrity of the respective alpine catchment areas. In contrast to its importance only little knowledge on the ecosystem in karstic groundwater is currently available. Four years ago the applicant and her former working group gave first evidence for the existence of an autochthonous microbial endokarst community (AMEC), whose composition would depend on the prevailing hydro-geological conditions. Furthermore, it was shown that heterotrophic prokaryotic production in aquifer sediment was considerably higher than in the respective water column, confirming the general view that most of the microbial biomass and activity in aquifers is found in the biofilm compartment. The proposed study will be the first comprehensive attempt to establish an ultra-deep sequencing framework of autochthonous karstic aquifer communities in the Central European Region. Arising from earlier results, the hypothesis of a distinct assemblage of prokaryotes, reflecting hydrogeology and lithological composition of an aquifer, has the potential to blaze the way for a plethora of questions, ranging from evolutionary aspects and survival strategies to speculations about endemic subsurface communities.The rapid development in high throughput parallel sequencing approaches and novel tools like total-community divergence measures (such as Unifrac matrix), now allow to verify and expand the AMEC-concept by comparing autochthonous aquifer communities on a regional scale (Central European Region). However, microbial communities present in alpine karst aquifers sometimes have to withstand tremendous changes of environmental parameters such as water levels and nutrient availability. Microbes overcome these challenges often by altering their protein expression profiles but not by immediate genomic rearrangements. Consequently, the mere study of individual genes and their regulation is not sufficient to fully understand microbial adaptation strategies and post-genomic analyses such as proteomics is urgently needed to investigate structure and physiology of complex microbial consortia at a molecular level. These method has contributed substantially to our understanding of individual organisms at the cellular level; however, it has not yet been widely applied in microbial ecology. This study aims at building the base for a robust eco-phylogenetic framework in the karstic subsurface at an unprecedented resolution. It will furthermore use in situ and lab experiments to shed light on interactions between (attached) autochthonous communities and the prevailing hydrogeological conditions in karstic aquifers. The combinations of metagenomics and proteomics will not only identify potential main players of metabolic processes in the saturated karstic subsurface, but also help to understand how communities react to changing conditions. A conceptual model for alpine karst aquifers designed at the end of the project will, for the first time, describe coherences between the occurrence and the possible metabolic potential of autochthonous communities, hitherto unknown. A multi-parametric statistical approach including a wealth of lithological, hydrological, chemical and microbiological background data will put the results in a broader context and establish a basis for pointed research questions in karstic groundwater environments that will reach far beyond the Central European Region.Thereby, this project will not only be groundbreaking for basic research in this relatively young field of environmental microbiology, but it will also be important for sustainable water resource management and provide fundamental data for eco-toxicology and risk assessment in groundwater aquifers
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