Tobin Research Lab, 2013

Microbial Ecology of the Centralia, Pennsylvania Mine Fire    

In 1962, a trash fire in an abandoned anthracite coal mine ignited a near-surface coal seam. The fire has been burning ever since.  It currently covers 300 acres, and has resulted in the evacuation of the town of Centralia, PA.  Ultimately, the fire is expected to impact 3000 acres.  We are interested in studying the recent evolution of microorganisms in response to the increased soil temperature and altered soil chemistry in the area affected by the fire.  Since the fire is a recent phenomenon, with easily-defined boundaries that ebb and flow with time, we have a unique ability to monitor microbial adaptations to this geothermal event as it happens.  We are also interested in the roles that the resident bacteria are playing in the biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen and sulfur in the mine fire area. We are currently collaborating with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and with members of the Susquehanna University Departments of Chemistry and Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Specific Research Projects:

Isolating bacteria from the mine fire area: Students in this line of research use culture-based methods to isolate bacteria from the mine fire area. Physiological, microscopic and molecular biology analyses are then performed in order to identify the bacteria and clarify their roles in the mine fire environment.

Figure 1. Simple Stain and Scanning Electron Micrograph of Geobacillus thermoleovorans (left) and a Gram stain of a probable new species of Microbispora (right).

Relevant papers and presentations:

A. A. Thompson, M. L. Patrick, T. A. Becker, T. C. Tobin-Janzen (2009). Isolation, Identification and Characterization of Thermophilic Actinomyetes and Their
Bioproducts. ASM General Meeting.

Thompson, Ashley and Tammy Tobin-Janzen (2009).  Using Culture-based and Molecular Approaches to Identify and Isolate Novel Antibiotic Producing Bacteria from Hot Soils.  ABASM Regional Conference.

Whitehead, Katrina; Keener, Cassandra; Tobin-Janzen, Tammy. 2001. Identification of Thermophilic Bacteria from Centralian Soil Based on 16S rRNA Gene Sequences.  J. Pa. Acad. Sci74.

Gretzula, Kristy: Lavella, Tom: Guilford, Michael: Tobin-Janzen, Tammy. 2001.  Physiological Identification of Thermophilic Bacteria Isolated from the Centralia Mine Fire. J. Pa. Acad. Sci.74.

Moseby, Tim; Burgos, Jonathan; Reed, Janelle; Tobin-Janzen, Tammy. 2000. Isolation and Identification of Soil Bacteria from the Centralia Mine Fire Area.  J. Pa. Acad Sci.73:150

Identifying nitrifying and sulfur-metabolizing bacteria: Recent evidence suggests that thermophilic or thermotolerant nitrifying and sulfur metabolizing bacteria may thrive in the mine fire area. Students involved in this project work closely with faculty in the departments of Geological and Environmental Sciences and Chemistry to identify such bacteria using both molecular (PCR) and culture-based techniques, and to elucidate their roles in the biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen and sulfur.

Figure 2. Elemental sulfur crystals (yellow) at the surface above the Centralia Mine Fire.

Recent papers and presentations:

Bell, Trevor; Nardella, Erin and Tobin, Tammy (2011) Identification of Sulfur-Metabolizing Bacteria From the Centralia Mine Fire Area. National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Tobin-Janzen, Tammy; Shade, Ashley ; Marshall, Leslie; Torres, Kristina ; Beblo, Curtina ; Janzen, Christopher; Lenig, Jennie ; Martinez, Amy; Ressler, Daniel. 2005.Nitrogen Changes and Domain Bacteria Ribotype Diversity in Soils Overlying the Centralia, Pennsylvania Underground Coal Mine Fire. Soil Sci 170(3): 191-201.

Tammy Tobin-Janzen, Ashley Shade, Leslie Marshall, Kristina Torres, Christopher Janzen, Jennie Lenig, Amy Martinez and Daniel Ressler. 2004. Environmental Changes and Bacterial Diversity in Soils Overlying the Underground Centralia, Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire. International Extremophiles Conference.

Gerrish, Robert; Ressler, Daniel; Tammy Tobin-Janzen. 2003. The detection of ammonia oxidizers in an extreme environment. National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Molecular ecology of soil bacteria: Using molecular biology techniques such as terminal-restriction fragment-length polymorphism analysis and DNA sequencing, students will identify predominant members of the soil bacterial communities above the mine fire, and will monitor changes to these communities over time as the mine fire expands into new areas.

Figure 3. The Centralia mine fire study site in 2002 showing the approximate locations of six sampling near two active vents. The arrow highlights steam rising from an active vent near the northern edge of the site.  Bare ground can be seen in the hottest vent area, between boreholes 2 and 5.  Purslane is visible around the edges of the most impacted sites.  Normal vegetation indicates unaffected areas to the north of boreholes 3 and 6.

Recent papers and presentations

Cole, M., Wrubel, J., Henegan, P., Janzen, C., Holt, J., and Tobin, T. 2011. Development of a Small-Scale Bioreactor Method to Monitor the Molecular Diversity and Environmental Impacts of Bacterial Biofilm Communities From an Acid Mine Drainage Impacted Creek. Journal of Microbiological Methods 87 (1):

Janzen, C. and Tobin-Janzen, T. 2008.  Microbial Communities in Fire-Affected Soils.  In Soil Biology Volume 13: Microbiology of Extreme Soils, Patrice Dion and Chandra Shekhar Nautiyal, eds. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. p.299-316.

Tobin-Janzen, Tammy; Shade, Ashley ; Marshall, Leslie; Torres, Kristina ; Beblo, Curtina ; Janzen, Christopher; Lenig, Jennie ; Martinez, Amy; Ressler, Daniel. 2005. Nitrogen Changes and Domain Bacteria Ribotype Diversity in Soils Overlying the Centralia, Pennsylvania Underground Coal Mine Fire. Soil Sci 170(3): 191-201.

Shade, Ashley; Gerrish, Robert; Held, Brittany; Ressler, Daniel; Tobin-Janzen, Tammy. 2003. Soil Bacterial Diversity in the Centralia, Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire Area. American Society for Microbiology General Meeting.

Marshall, Leslie; Torres, Kristina; Ressler, Daniel; Miller, Katherine; Tobin-Janzen, Tammy. 2002. T-RFLP Analysis of Bacterial Communities in the Centralia, Pennsylvania Coal Mine Fire Area. American Society for Microbiology General Meeting.

Recent Grants and Collaborations:

American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship.  2011.  $4000.  Funded.

American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship.  2010.  $1000.  Funded.

Shamokin Creek Study Proposal with Jack Holt and Chris Janzen.  2007 – 2008. $10,000 per year

American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship.  2006.  $4000.  Funded.

Transforming Life from the Ground Up: The Ecological Lessons of the Centralia Mine Fire Renewal. 2005.  NCUR/Lancy Grant.  $22,000. Funded.

Transforming Life from the Ground Up: The Ecological Lessons of the Centralia Mine Fire. 2004.  NCUR/Lancy Grant.  $40,000. Funded.

Diversity of Soil Microbial Communities in the Centralia Mine Fire Area. 2002. American Society for Microbiology Summer Research Fellowship Grant. $3400 Funded.

Adapting and Implementing the ‘Workshop Biology’ Concept in an Undergraduate Genetics Class. 2000.  NSF CCLI-A&I Grant.  $15,895 Funded.

Isolation of Thermophilic Bacteria from Centralian Soil. 2000.  Susquehanna University Summer Partners Program. $2700 Funded

Biological and Environmental Changes Associated with the Centralia Mine Fire. 1999.  Merck Foundation Grant.  $95,000  Funded.

 

Student Research cohorts in crime for 2012-2013

Alysha Melnyk, Kim McGrath, Larissa Luu and Colin Eberhardt

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