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Novel hydrocarbon-utilizing soil mycobacteria synthesize unique mycocerosic acids at a Sicilian everlasting fire
Smit, N.T.; Villanueva, L.; Rush, D.; Grassa, F.; Witkowski, C.R.; Holzheimer, M.; Minnaard, A.J.; Sinninghe Damsté, J.S.; Schouten, S. (2021). Novel hydrocarbon-utilizing soil mycobacteria synthesize unique mycocerosic acids at a Sicilian everlasting fire. Biogeosciences 18(4): 1463-1479.
In: Gattuso, J.P.; Kesselmeier, J. (Ed.) Biogeosciences. Copernicus Publications: Göttingen. ISSN 1726-4170; e-ISSN 1726-4189, meer
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Grassa, F.
  • Witkowski, C.R., meer
  • Holzheimer, M.
  • Minnaard, A.J.
  • Sinninghe Damsté, J.S., meer
  • Schouten, S., meer


    Soil bacteria rank among the most diverse groups of organisms on Earth and actively impact global processes of carbon cycling, especially in the emission of greenhouse gases like methane, CO2 and higher gaseous hydrocarbons. An abundant group of soil bacteria are the mycobacteria, which colonize various terrestrial, marine and anthropogenic environments due to their impermeable cell envelope that contains remarkable lipids. These bacteria have been found to be highly abundant at petroleum and gas seep areas, where they might utilize the released hydrocarbons. However, the function and the lipid biomarker inventory of these soil mycobacteria are poorly studied. Here, soils from the Fuoco di Censo seep, an everlasting fire (gas seep) in Sicily, Italy, were investigated for the presence of mycobacteria via 16S rRNA gene sequencing and fatty acid profiling. The soils contained high relative abundances (upto 34 % of reads assigned) of mycobacteria, phylogenetically close to the Mycobacterium simiae complex and more distant from thewell-studied M. tuberculosis and hydrocarbon-utilizing M. paraffinicum. The soils showed decreasing abundances of mycocerosic acids (MAs), fatty acids unique for mycobacteria, with increasing distance from the seep. The major MAs at this seep were tentatively identified as 2,4,6,8-tetramethyl tetracosanoic acid and 2,4,6,8,10-pentamethyl hexacosanoic acid. Unusual MAs with mid-chain methyl branches at positions C-12 and C-16 (i.e., 2,12-dimethyl eicosanoic acid and 2,4,6,8,16-pentamethyl tetracosanoic acid) were also present. The molecular structures of the Fuoco di Censo MAs are different from those ofthe well-studied mycobacteria like M. tuberculosis or M. bovis and have relatively δ13C-depleted values (−38 ‰ to −48 ‰), suggesting a direct or indirect utilization of the released seep gases like methane or ethane. The structurally unique MAs in combination with their depleted δ13C values identified at the Fuoco di Censo seep offer a new tool to study the role of soil mycobacteria as hydrocarbon gas consumers in the carbon cycle.

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