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In-field bioreactors demonstrate dynamic shifts in microbial communities in response to geochemical perturbations...

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Subsurface microbial communities mediate the transformation and fate of redox sensitive materials including organic matter, metals and radionuclides. Few studies have explored how changing geochemical conditions influence the composition of groundwater microbial communities over time. We temporally monitored alterations in abiotic forces on microbial community structure using 1L in-field bioreactors receiving background and contaminated groundwater at the Oak Ridge Reservation, TN. Planktonic and biofilm microbial communities were initialized with background water for 4 days to establish communities in triplicate control reactors and triplicate test reactors and then fed filtered water for 14 days. On day 18, three reactors were switched to receive filtered groundwater from a contaminated well, enriched in total dissolved solids relative to the background site, particularly chloride, nitrate, uranium, and sulfate. Biological and geochemical data were collected throughout the experiment, including planktonic and biofilm DNA for 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing, cell counts, total protein, anions, cations, trace metals, organic acids, bicarbonate, pH, Eh, DO, and conductivity. We observed significant shifts in both planktonic and biofilm microbial communities receiving contaminated water. This included a loss of rare taxa, especially amongst members of the Bacteroidetes, Acidobacteria, Chloroflexi, and Betaproteobacteria, but enrichment in the Fe- and nitrate- reducing Ferribacterium and parasitic Bdellovibrio. These shifted communities were more similar to the contaminated well community, suggesting that geochemical forces substantially influence microbial community diversity and structure. These influences can only be captured through such comprehensive temporal studies, which also enable more robust and accurate predictive models to be developed.