In San Biagio of Belpasso, approximately 20 km south of Mt. Etna, in the area of contact between volcanic and sedimentary formations, a number of small (3– 60 cm in diameter) active mud eruptions discharge CO2-rich gases, mud and NaCl brines. They can be described as mini-volcanoes owing to their typical conic shapes and continuously bubbling peak craters. Samples were collected from the active peak craters at a depth of 20 cm and DNA was immediately extracted and amplified with universal 16S rRNA gene-specific primers, followed by cloning procedure. A total of 140 bacterial clones obtained were screened and clustered by restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. The pool of 16S rRNA sequences representing each RFLP cluster was subjected to phylogenetic analysis. All of the 33 sequences analysed were affiliated with the kingdom of Eubacteria; 28 sequences (77% of all clones) affiliated with the Proteobacteria, two sequences (19% of all clones) were affiliated with Actinobacteria and three sequences (4% of all clones) were affiliated with the Flexibacter-Cytophaga-Bacteroides division. The data obtained suggest that the microorganisms phylogenetically affiliated to autotrophic methane oxidizers and heterotrophic hydrocarbon degraders belonging to the gamma-subclass of Proteobacteria are major constituents of the microbial communities of the saline volcanic muds. Overall, the composition of the microbial community of the San Biagio mud volcano resembles the compositions of marine microbial communities, which might indicate that wind-blown seawater vapour acted as an inoculum for microbial community described in present work.
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