Planktonic microbial communities associated with fracture-derived groundwater in a deep gold mine of South Africa

Li Hung Lin, James Hall, Tullis C. Onstott, Thomas Gihring, Barbara Sherwood Lollar, Erik Boice, Lisa Pratt, Johanna Lippmann-Pipke, Robert E.S. Bellamy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


The vertical distribution and function of terrestrial planktonic microbial communities at depths greater than 600 m remain poorly established. Culture-independent methods using 16S rRNA genes and geochemical approaches were employed to investigate the heterogeneity and potential function of microbial communities residing within fractures at 0.7 to 1.4 kilometers below land surface of Beatrix Au Mine, South Africa. The salinity (26 to 47 mM Cl-), temperature (33 to 40°C) and age (1 to 5 Ma) of these fracture water increased with depth. The δD and δ18O values of fracture water ranged from -44 to -39% and from -7 to -4% VSMOW, respectively, and exhibited a mixing trend with fracture water collected from the same mine in a previous study where isotopic signatures were indicative of hydrothermal origin. Fracture water from Beatrix Mine was distinct from the groundwater in the overlying Karoo sedimentary strata in terms of its Cl-, He and CH4 concentrations, and its δD and δ18O signatures and from Vaal River (source of service water) in terms of its δD and δ18O signatures. The differences constrain the maximum amount of mixing with service water or shallow groundwater to be less than 4%. The 16S rDNA analyses revealed diverse and numerous novel 16S rRNA genes affiliated with Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Nitrospira, Chlorobi, Thermus, Candidate Division OP3 and Euryarchaeota. The proportion of each phylum in clone libraries varied markedly among samples and suggests km-scale, spatial heterogeneity in community structures. Potential metabolisms inferred from the presence of 16S rRNA genes are generally consistent with estimates of the available free energy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-497
Number of pages23
JournalHandbook of Environmental Chemistry, Volume 5: Water Pollution
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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


  • 16S rRNA gene phylogeny
  • Planktonic communities
  • South African gold mine
  • Subsurface ecosystems


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