Capture of planktonic microbial diversity in fractures by long-term monitoring of flowing boreholes, evander basin, South Africa

Mark M. Davidson, Bianca J. Silver, Tullis C. Onstott, Duane P. Moser, Thomas M. Gihring, Lisa M. Pratt, Erik A. Boice, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Johanna Lippmann-Pipke, Susan M. Pfiffner, T. L. Kieft, Walter Seymore, Colin Ralston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


The diversity of planktonic microorganisms in fluids from a group of flowing subterranean boreholes was monitored from the day they were drilled to as long as three and a half months after drilling as they drained into Evander Au mine. Geochemical analyses of the water, characterization of microbial communities by phospholipids fatty acid (PLFA) and DNA sequence analyses, and calculations of free energy flux indicated thatmine-introduced microbial contaminants, dominated by β and γ Proteobacteria, Cenarchaeaceae and Candidatus Nitrososphaera, were flushedfrom the boreholes and replaced by fracture water derived microbial communities dominated by Firmicutes, Methanosarcinalesand Thermoproteaceaea. The fracture water was a mixture of paleometeoric water and 2.0 Ga old, diagenetically altered, hydrothermal fluid. The C and H isotopic data for indicated that the was primarily abiogenic in origin although ~35-50% of it might have originated from microbial methanogenesis. Noble gas analyses yielded estimated residence times of some 10 million years for the fracture water, which is estimated to represent a capture cross-section of 0.25-0.50 km2. The 16S rRNA and dsrAB gene sequences indicated that the indigenous bacterial communities were predominantly comprised of sulfate reducers belonging to the genera Desulfotomaculum, Candiditus Desulforudis and Desulfofustis. The sulfur isotopic analyses of sulfate and sulfide yielded fractionation Δ34S values ranging from 16 to 22% consistent with microbial sulfate reduction.Thermodynamic analyses indicate that methanogenic reactions are inhibited by the high partial pressure of abiogenic CH4 and that sulfate-reducing reactions are more favorable, which is consistent with the abundance of 16S rRNA genes belonging to known sulfate reducing bacteria. Supplemental materials are available for this article. Go to the publisher's online edition of Geomicrobiology Journal to view the free supplemental files.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-300
Number of pages26
JournalGeomicrobiology Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Environmental Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • 16S rRNAphylogeny
  • Isotope geochemistry
  • Methanogenesis
  • Sulfate reduction
  • dsrAB


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