, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 416-428
Date: 17 Sep 2003

Characterisation of Yeasts Isolated from Deep Igneous Rock Aquifers of the Fennoscandian Shield

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The diversity of prokaryotes in the groundwater deep below the surface of the Baltic Sea at the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory (HRL) in southeast Sweden is well documented. In addition, there is some evidence that eukaryotes, too, are present in the deep groundwater at this site, although their origins are uncertain. To extend the knowledge of eukaryotic life in this environment, five yeast, three yeastlike, and 17 mold strains were isolated from Äspö HRL groundwater between 201 and 444 m below sea level. Phenotypic testing and phylogenetic analysis of 18S rDNA sequences of the five yeast isolates revealed their relationships to Rhodotorula minuta and Cryptococcus spp. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy demonstrated that the strains possessed morphological characteristics typical for yeast, although they were relatively small, with an average length of 3 µm. Enumeration through direct counting and most probable number methods showed low numbers of fungi, between 0.01 and 1 cells mL−1, at some sites. Five of the strains were characterized physiologically to determine whether they were adapted to life in the deep biosphere. These studies revealed that the strains grew within a pH range of 4–10, between temperatures of 4°C and 25–30°C, and in NaCl concentrations from 0 to 70 g L−1. These growth parameters suggest a degree of adaptation to the groundwater at Äspö HRL. Despite the fact that these eukaryotic microorganisms may be transient members of the deep biosphere microbial community, many of the observations of this study suggest that they are capable of growing in this extreme environment.