Elucidating the in situ metabolic activity of phylogenetically diverse populations of sulfate-reducing microorganisms that populate anoxic sedimentary environments is key to understanding subsurface ecology. Previous pure culture studies have demonstrated that the transcript abundance of dissimilatory (bi)sulfite reductase genes is correlated with the sulfate-reducing activity of individual cells. To evaluate whether expression of these genes was diagnostic for subsurface communities, dissimilatory (bi)sulfite reductase gene transcript abundance in phylogenetically distinct sulfate-reducing populations was quantified during a field experiment in which acetate was added to uranium-contaminated groundwater. Analysis of dsrAB sequences prior to the addition of acetate indicated that Desulfobacteraceae, Desulfobulbaceae, and Syntrophaceae-related sulfate reducers were the most abundant. Quantifying dsrB transcripts of the individual populations suggested that Desulfobacteraceae initially had higher dsrB transcripts per cell than Desulfobulbaceae or Syntrophaceae populations and that the activity of Desulfobacteraceae increased further when the metabolism of dissimilatory metal reducers competing for the added acetate declined. In contrast, dsrB transcript abundance in Desulfobulbaceae and Syntrophaceae remained relatively constant, suggesting a lack of stimulation by added acetate. The indication of higher sulfate-reducing activity in the Desulfobacteraceae was consistent with the finding that Desulfobacteraceae became the predominant component of the sulfate-reducing community. Discontinuing acetate additions resulted in a decline in dsrB transcript abundance in the Desulfobacteraceae. These results suggest that monitoring transcripts of dissimilatory (bi)sulfite reductase genes in distinct populations of sulfate reducers can provide insight into the relative rates of metabolism of different components of the sulfate-reducing community and their ability to respond to environmental perturbations.
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