The identification and characterization of genes involved in the microbial oxidation of arsenite will contribute to our understanding of factors controlling As cycling in natural systems. Towards this goal, we recently characterized the widespread occurrence of aerobic arsenite oxidase genes (aroA-like) from pure-culture bacterial isolates, soils, sediments and geothermal mats, but were unable to detect these genes in all geothermal systems where we have observed microbial arsenite oxidation. Consequently, the objectives of the current study were to measure arsenite-oxidation rates in geochemically diverse thermal habitats in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) ranging in pH from 2.6 to 8, and to identify corresponding 16S rRNA and aroA genotypes associated with these arsenite-oxidizing environments. Geochemical analyses, including measurement of arsenite-oxidation rates within geothermal outflow channels, were combined with 16S rRNA gene and aroA functional gene analysis using newly designed primers to capture previously undescribed aroA-like arsenite oxidase gene diversity. The majority of bacterial 16S rRNA gene sequences found in acidic (pH 2.6-3.6) Fe-oxyhydroxide microbial mats were closely related to Hydrogenobaculum spp. (members of the bacterial order Aquificales), while the predominant sequences from near-neutral (pH 6.2-8) springs were affiliated with other Aquificales including Sulfurihydrogenibium spp., Thermocrinis spp. and Hydrogenobacter spp., as well as members of the Deinococci, Thermodesulfobacteria and β-Proteobacteria. Modified primers designed around previously characterized and newly identified aroA-like genes successfully amplified new lineages of aroA-like genes associated with members of the Aquificales across all geothermal systems examined. The expression of Aquificales aroA-like genes was also confirmed in situ, and the resultant cDNA sequences were consistent with aroA genotypes identified in the same environments. The aroA sequences identified in the current study expand the phylogenetic distribution of known Mo-pterin arsenite oxidase genes, and suggest the importance of three prominent genera of the order Aquificales in arsenite oxidation across geochemically distinct geothermal habitats ranging in pH from 2.6 to 8.
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