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Nicosulfuron application in agricultural soils drives the selection towards NS-tolerant microorganisms harboring various levels of sensitivity to nicosulfuron

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The action mode of sulfonylurea herbicides is the inhibition of the acetohydroxyacid synthase (AHAS) required for the biosynthesis of amino acids valine and isoleucine in plants. However, this enzyme is also present in a range of non-targeted organisms, among which soil microorganisms are known for their pivotal role in ecosystem functioning. In order to assess microbial toxicity of sulfonylurea herbicide nicosulfuron (NS), a tiered microcosm (Tier I) to field (Tier II) experiment was designed. Soil bacteria harboring AHAS enzyme tolerant to the herbicide nicosulfuron were enumerated, isolated, taxonomically identified, and physiologically characterized. Results suggested that application of nicosulfuron drives the selection towards NS-tolerant bacteria, with increasing levels of exposure inducing an increase in their abundance and diversity in soil. Tolerance to nicosulfuron was shown to be widespread among the microbial community with various bacteria belonging to Firmicutes (Bacillus) and Actinobacteria (Arthrobacter) phyla representing most abundant and diverse clusters. While Arthrobacter bacterial population dominated community evolved under lower (Tier II) nicosulfuron selection pressure, it turns out that Bacillus dominated community evolved under higher (Tier I) nicosulfuron selection pressure. Different NS-tolerant bacteria likewise showed different levels of sensitivity to the nicosulfuron estimated by growth kinetics on nicosulfuron. As evident, Tier I exposure allowed selection of populations able to better cope with nicosulfuron. One could propose that sulfonylureas-tolerant bacterial community could constitute a useful bioindicator of exposure to these herbicides for assessing their ecotoxicity towards soil microorganisms.

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This study was financed within the frame of the SEEERA.NET PLUS project no. ERA 216/1ECOFUN-MICROBIODIV: Development and evaluation of innovative tools to estimate the ecotoxicological impact of low-dose pesticide application in agriculture on soil functional microbial biodiversity (http://plus.see-era.net//pjc/fundedprojects.html). We would like to thank Ralf Hanatscheck and Christian Schache from Project Management Agency c/o German Aerospace Center (DLR, Bonn, Germany) for their assistance all along the project.

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Correspondence to Ines Petric.

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All the participants listed as co-authors have contributed significantly in the execution and interpretation of the reported study. All co-authors have seen and approved the final version of the manuscript and have agreed to its submission for publication in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research. Research presented in the manuscript did involve neither human participants nor animals.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Petric, I., Karpouzas, D.G., Bru, D. et al. Nicosulfuron application in agricultural soils drives the selection towards NS-tolerant microorganisms harboring various levels of sensitivity to nicosulfuron. Environ Sci Pollut Res 23, 4320–4333 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-015-5645-6

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  • Agricultural soil
  • Sulfonylurea herbicides
  • Nicosulfuron
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Microbial community
  • Tolerant bacteria
  • AHAS enzyme