In situ, real-time catabolic gene expression: Extraction and characterization of naphthalene dioxygenase mRNA transcripts from groundwater

Mark S. Wilson, Corien Bakermans, Eugene L. Madsen

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133 Scopus citations


We developed procedures for isolating and characterizing in situ- transcribed mRNA from groundwater microorganisms catabolizing naphthalene at a coal tar waste-contaminated site. Groundwater was pumped through 0.22-μm- pore-size filters, which were then frozen in dry ice-ethanol. RNA was extracted from the frozen filters by boiling sodium dodecyl sulfate lysis and acidic phenol-chloroform extraction. Transcript characterization was performed with a series of PCR primers designed to amplify nahAc homologs. Several primer pairs were found to amplify nahAc homologs representing the entire diversity of the naphthalene-degrading genes. The environmental RNA extract was reverse transcribed, and the resultant mixture of cDNAs was amplified by PCR. A digoxigenin-labeled probe mixture was produced by PCR amplification of groundwater cDNA. This probe mixture hybridized under stringent conditions with the corresponding PCR products from naphthalene- degrading bacteria carrying a variety of nahAc homologs, indicating that diverse dioxygenase transcripts had been retrieved from groundwater. Diluted and undiluted cDNA preparations were independently amplified, and 28 of the resulting PCR products were cloned and sequenced. Sequence comparisons revealed two major groups related to the dioxygenase genes ndoB and dntAc, previously cloned from Pseudomonas putida NCIB 9816-4 and Burkholderia sp. strain DNT, respectively. A distinctive subgroup of sequences was found only in experiments performed with the undiluted cDNA preparation. To our knowledge, these results are the first to directly document in situ transcription of genes encoding naphthalene catabolism at a contaminated site by indigenous microorganisms. The retrieved sequences represent greater diversity than has been detected at the study site by culture-based approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-87
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and environmental microbiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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