N-148. Identifying Novel Thermophilic Bacteria from Soils Overlying the Centralia, Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire

T. C. Tobin-Janzen, A. Alkhateeb, K. Brown, A. Thompson, C. P. Janzen;
Susquehanna Univ., Selinsgrove, PA.

The Centralia, Pennsylvania coalmine fire has been burning since a trash fire ignited a surface-accessible coal seam in 1962. As the fire expands into new areas of the underground mine shafts, hot gases vent to the surface through soil fractures, increasing surface soil temperatures to over 400 °C and precipitating high levels of sulfur, nitrogen, and iron into the surrounding soils. In order to analyze the impact that this expanding fire is having on the resident soil bacterial communities, we collected soil samples from 5 boreholes (0-10 cm depth) that spanned an active vent and that ranged in temperature from 56°C to 86°C. Genomic DNA was isolated from each soil sample, and used to construct 16S rRNA gene libraries. Sequence analysis of these libraries indicated the presence of novel thermophilic bacteria, many of which were likely to be capable of metabolizing the rich sources of inorganic nitrogen, sulfur and iron present in the site. Furthermore, when soil samples were inoculated on glucose yeast extract agar at 55°C, a new thermophilic Microbispora strain was isolated. This strain is currently being analyzed to determine if it is capable of producing novel bioproducts at elevated temperatures. Taken together, these studies indicate that the hot soils overlying the Centralia mine fire represent a potentially rich environment from which to isolate novel thermophilic bacteria with environmental and industrial importance.