Perturbation of the gut microbiome in wild-caught freshwater turtles (Emydura macquarii macquarii) exposed to elevated PFAS levels

By David J Beale, Andrew Bissett, Sandra Nilsson, Utpal Bose, Joost Laurus Dinant Nelis, Akhikun Nahar, Matthew Smith, Viviana Gonzalez-Astudillo, Christoph Braun, Brenda Baddiley, and Suzanne Vardy
Sci Total Environ
June 6, 2022
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.156324

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are environmentally persistent and pervasive. Understanding the toxicity of PFAS to wildlife is difficult, both due to the complexity of biotic and abiotic perturbations in the taxa under study and the practical and ethical problems associated with studying the impacts of environmental pollutants on free living wildlife. One avenue of inquiry into the effects of environmental pollutants, such as PFAS, is assessing the impact on the host gut microbiome. Here we show the microbial composition and biochemical functional outputs from the gut microbiome of sampled faeces from euthanised and necropsied wild-caught freshwater turtles (Emydura macquarii macquarii) exposed to elevated PFAS levels. The microbial community composition was profiled by 16S rRNA gene sequencing using a Nanopore MinION and the biochemical functional outputs of the gut microbiome were profiled using a combination of targeted central carbon metabolism metabolomics using liquid chromatography coupled to a triple quadrupole mass spectrometer (LC-QqQ-MS) and untargeted metabolomics using liquid chromatography coupled to a quadrupole time of flight mass spectrometer (LC-QToF-MS). Total PFAS was measured in the turtle serum using standard methods. These preliminary data demonstrated a 60-fold PFAS increase in impacted turtles compared to the sampled aquatic environment. The microbiome community was also impacted in the PFAS exposed turtles, with the ratio of Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes rising from 1.4 at the reference site to 5.5 at the PFAS impacted site. This ratio increase is indicative of host stress and dysfunction of the gut microbiome that was correlated with the biochemical metabolic function data, metabolites observed that are indications of stress and inflammation in the gut microbiome. Utilising the gut microbiome of sampled faeces collected from freshwater turtles provides a non-destructive avenue for investigating the impacts of PFAS in native wildlife, and provides an avenue to explore other contaminants in higher-order taxa within the environment.

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