Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Microbiological and 16S rRNA analysis of sulphite-reducing clostridia from river sediments in central Italy

Stefania Marcheggiani1*, Marcello Iaconelli1, Annamaria D'angelo1, Elio Pierdominici1, Giuseppina La Rosa1, Michele Muscillo1, Michele Equestre2 and Laura Mancini1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environment and Primary Prevention, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00169 Rome Italy

2 Department of Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Istituto Superiore di Sanità, Viale Regina Elena 299, 00169 Rome Italy

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BMC Microbiology 2008, 8:171  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-8-171

Published: 8 October 2008



Microbiological indicators are commonly used in the assessment of public health risks associated with fecal contamination of freshwater ecosystems. Sediments are a reservoir of microorganisms, and can thus provide information on past pollution events, not obtainable through the testing of surface water. Moreover, pathogens present in sediment may represent future threats to human health. Clostridium perfringens, a typical colonizer of sediments, has been suggested as an alternative indicator of fecal pollution. In order to be suitable for such purpose, the microorganism should be widely distributed in contaminated environments. The objective of this study was thus to determine the composition of the anaerobic community in sediment samples of the lower Tiber basin, in central Italy, through a combined approach involving granulometric analysis of sediment samples, as well as a microbiological and molecular (16S rRNA) analysis of strains.


Granulometry showed a similar, clayey sediment composition, in most sampling sites. The microbiological method, employing, an adaptation of the standard method, proved to be effective in isolating anaerobic bacteria from the environmental matrix for the purpose of genetic analysis. Eighty-three strains of bacteria were isolated and the partial 16S rRNA gene sequenced. While biochemical analysis detected only C. perfringens strains, phylogenetic analysis indicated the presence of three clusters: C. perfringens, C. bifermentans and B. cereus, comprising eight taxa. C. perfringens, the commonest in almost all sediment sampling sites, was present in all sites, and in both seasons (seasonal sampling was carried out only along the Tiber and Aniene rivers). None of the described genetic profiles showed complete similarity with GenBank sequences.


The study underlines the value of C. perfringens as an alternative microbial indicator of fecal contamination in river sediments. This is supported by the bacterium's presence in all sampling sites, and in both seasons, coupled with its detectability using commercial diagnostic kits.

The study also illustrates the presence of an anaerobic community of considerable biodiversity in the lower Tiber basin, with C. perfringens as its main component. The 16S rRNA analysis, while confirming the phylogenetic relationships among isolated species, also showed haplotype patterns different from those present in the NCBI database.