Sterilization impacts on marine sediment-Are we able to inactivate microorganisms in environmental samples?

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  • Julia M. Otte, University Tübingen
  • ,
  • Nia Blackwell, University Tübingen
  • ,
  • Viktoria Soos, University Tübingen
  • ,
  • Saskia Rughöft, University Tübingen
  • ,
  • Markus Maisch, University Tübingen
  • ,
  • Andreas Kappler
  • Sara Kleindienst, University Tübingen
  • ,
  • Caroline Schmidt, University Tübingen

To distinguish between biotic and abiotic processes in laboratory experiments with environmental samples, an effective sterilization method is required that prevents biological activity but does not change physico-geochemical properties of samples. We compared standard sterilization methods with respect to their impact on microbial abundance and activity. We exposed marine sediment to (i) autoclaving, (ii) gamma-radiation or (iii) sodium azide (NaN3) and determined how nucleic acids, microbial productivity, colony forming units (CFUs) and community composition of microorganisms, fungi, unicellular protists and protozoa were affected. In autoclaved and gamma-sterilized sediments, only few colonies formed within 16 days. After addition of NaN3 to the sediment, numerous CFUs ( > 50) but lower 3H-leucine incorporation rates, i.e. lower protein biosynthesis rates, were found compared to the other two sterilization techniques. Extractable RNA was detected immediately after all sterilization treatments (0.2-17.9 ng/g dry sediment) but decreased substantially by 84%-98% after 16 days of incubation. The total organic carbon content increased from 18 mg L-1 to 220 mg L-1 (autoclaving) and 150 mg L-1 (gamma-radiation) after sterilization. We compare advantages and disadvantages for each tested sterilization method and provide a helpful decision-making resource for choosing the appropriate sterilization technique for environmental studies, particularly for marine sediments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfiy189
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

    Research areas

  • H-leucine, Autoclaving, Gamma-radiation, Mössbauer spectroscopy, RNA, Sodium azide, T-RFLP

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