Exposure of soil microbial communities to chromium and arsenic alters their diversity and structure

Cody S. Sheik, Tyler W. Mitchell, Fariha Z. Rizvi, Yasir Rehman, Muhammad Faisal, Shahida Hasnain, Michael J. McInerney, Lee R. Krumholz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

216 Scopus citations


Extensive use of chromium (Cr) and arsenic (As) based preservatives from the leather tanning industry in Pakistan has had a deleterious effect on the soils surrounding production facilities. Bacteria have been shown to be an active component in the geochemical cycling of both Cr and As, but it is unknown how these compounds affect microbial community composition or the prevalence and form of metal resistance. Therefore, we sought to understand the effects that long-term exposure to As and Cr had on the diversity and structure of soil microbial communities. Soils from three spatially isolated tanning facilities in the Punjab province of Pakistan were analyzed. The structure, diversity and abundance of microbial 16S rRNA genes were highly influenced by the concentration and presence of hexavalent chromium (Cr (VI)) and arsenic. When compared to control soils, contaminated soils were dominated by Proteobacteria while Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria (which are generally abundant in pristine soils) were minor components of the bacterial community. Shifts in community composition were significant and revealed that Cr (VI)-containing soils were more similar to each other than to As contaminated soils lacking Cr (VI). Diversity of the arsenic resistance genes, arsB and ACR3 were also determined. Results showed that ACR3 becomes less diverse as arsenic concentrations increase with a single OTU dominating at the highest concentration. Chronic exposure to either Cr or As not only alters the composition of the soil bacterial community in general, but affects the arsenic resistant individuals in different ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere40059
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 29 2012
Externally publishedYes


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