From genes to genomes: beyond biodiversity in Spain's Rio Tinto. Academic Article uri icon


  • Spain's Rio Tinto, or Red River, an example of an extremely acidic (pH 1.7-2.5) environment with a high metal content, teems with prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbial life. Our recent studies based on small-subunit rRNA genes reveal an unexpectedly high eukaryotic phylogenetic diversity in the river when compared to the relatively low prokaryotic diversity. Protists can therefore thrive in and dominate extremely acidic, heavy-metal-laden environments. Further, because we have discovered protistan acidophiles closely related to neutrophiles, we can hypothesize that the transition from neutral to acidic environments occurs rapidly over geological time scales. How have these organisms adapted to such environments? We are currently exploring the alterations in physiological mechanisms that might allow for growth of eukaryotic microbes at acid extremes. To this end, we are isolating phylogenetically diverse protists in order to characterize and compare ion-transporting ATPases from cultured acidophiles with those from neutrophilic counterparts. We predict that special properties of these ion transporters allow protists to survive in the Rio Tinto.

publication date

  • April 2003