Life in the PFAS lane: The impact of perfluoroalkyl substances on photosynthesis, cellular exudates, nutrient cycling, and composition of a marine microbial community

By Sarah N Davis, Shaley M Klumker, Alexis A Mitchell, Marshall A Coppage, Jessica M Labonté, and Antonietta Quigg
Sci Total Environ
March 26, 2024
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.171977

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are of great ecological concern, however, exploration of their impact on bacteria-phytoplankton consortia is limited. This study employed a bioassay approach to investigate the effect of unary exposures of increasing concentrations of PFAS (perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and 6:2 fluorotelomer sulfonate (6:2 FTS)) on microbial communities from the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Each community was examined for changes in growth and photophysiology, exudate production and shifts in community structure (16S and 18S rRNA genes). 6:2 FTS did not alter the growth or health of phytoplankton communities, as there were no changes relative to the controls (no PFOS added). On the other hand, PFOS elicited significant phototoxicity (p < 0.05), altering PSII antennae size, lowering PSII connectivity, and decreasing photosynthetic efficiency over the incubation (four days). PFOS induced a cellular protective response, indicated by significant increases (p < 0.001) in the release of transparent exopolymer particles (TEP) compared to the control. Eukaryotic communities (18S rRNA gene) changed substantially (p < 0.05) and to a greater extent than prokaryotic communities (16S rRNA gene) in PFOS treatments. Community shifts were concentration-dependent for eukaryotes, with the low treatment (5 mg/L PFOS) dominated by Coscinodiscophyceae (40 %), and the high treatment (30 mg/L PFOS) marked by a Trebouxiophyceae (50 %) dominance. Prokaryotic community shifts were not concentration dependent, as both treatment levels became depleted in Cyanobacteriia and were dominated by members of the Bacteroidia, Gammaproteobacteria, and Alphaproteobacteria classes. Further, PFOS significantly decreased (p < 0.05) the Shannon diversity and Pielou's evenness across treatments for eukaryotes, and in the low treatment (5 mg/L PFOS) for prokaryotes. These findings show that photophysiology was not impacted by 6:2 FTS but PFOS elicited toxicity that impacted photosynthesis, exudate release, and community composition. This research is crucial in understanding how PFOS impacts microbial communities.

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