A Novel Adaptation Mechanism Underpinning Algal Colonization of a Nuclear Fuel Storage Pond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Victoria E MeGraw
  • Ashley R Brown
  • Christopher Boothman
  • David Sigee
  • Lizzie Anderson


Geochemical analyses alongside molecular techniques were used to characterize the microbial ecology and biogeochemistry of an outdoor spent nuclear fuel storage pond at Sellafield, United Kingdom, that is susceptible to seasonal algal blooms that cause plant downtime. 18S rRNA gene profiling of the filtered biomass samples showed the increasing dominance of a species closely related to the alga Haematococcus pluvialis, alongside 16S rRNA genes affiliated with a diversity of freshwater bacteria, including Proteobacteria and Cyanobacteria. High retention of 137Cs and 90Sr on pond water filters coincided with high levels of microbial biomass in the pond, suggesting that microbial colonization may have an important control on radionuclide fate in the pond. To interpret the unexpected dominance of Haematococcus species during bloom events in this extreme environment, the physiological response of H. pluvialis to environmentally relevant ionizing radiation doses was assessed. Irradiated laboratory cultures produced significant quantities of the antioxidant astaxanthin, consistent with pigmentation observed in pond samples. Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy suggested that radiation did not have a widespread impact on the metabolic fingerprint of H. pluvialis in laboratory experiments, despite the 80-Gy dose. This study suggests that the production of astaxanthin-rich encysted cells may be related to the preservation of the Haematococcus phenotype, potentially allowing it to survive oxidative stress arising from radiation doses associated with the spent nuclear fuel. The oligotrophic and radiologically extreme conditions in this environment do not prevent extensive colonization by microbial communities, which play a defining role in controlling the biogeochemical fate of major radioactive species present.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Early online date26 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2018

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