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Microbiological activities in moonmilk monitored using isothermal microcalorimetry (cave of Vers Chez le Brandt, Neuchatel, Switzerland)

Authors
Journal
Journal of Cave and Karst Studies
1090-6924
Publisher
National Speleological Society
Publication Date
Volume
74
Issue
1
Identifiers
DOI: 10.4311/2011jcks0213
Disciplines
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Medicine

Abstract

Studies of the influence of microbial communities on calcium carbonate deposits mostly rely on classical or molecular microbiology, isotopic analyses, and microscopy. Using these techniques, it is difficult to infer microbial activities in such deposits. In this context, we used isothermal microcalorimetry, a sensitive and nondestructive tool, to measure microbial activities associated with moonmilk ex-situ. Upon the addition of diluted LB medium and other carbon sources to fresh moonmilk samples, we estimated the number of colony forming units per gram of moonmilk to be 4.8 3 105 6 0.2 3 105. This number was close to the classical plate counts, but one cannot assume that all active cells producing metabolic heat were culturable. Using a similar approach, we estimated the overall growth rate and generation time of the microbial community associated with the moonmilk upon addition of various carbon sources. The range of apparent growth rates of the chemoheterotrophic microbial community observed was between 0.025 and 0.067 h21 and generation times were between 10 and 27 hours. The highest growth rates were observed for citrate and diluted LB medium, while the highest carbon-source consumption rates were observed for low molecular weight organic acids (oxalate and acetate) and glycerol. Considering the rapid degradation of organic acids, glucose, and other carbon sources observed in the moonmilk, it is obvious that upon addition of nutrients during snow melting or rainfall these communities can have high overall activities comparable to those observed in some soils. Such communities can influence the physico-chemical conditions and participate directly or indirectly to the formation of moonmilk.

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