New perspectives on nitrite-oxidizing bacteria - linking genomes to physiology

It is a generally accepted characteristic of the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle that nitrification is catalyzed by two distinct clades of microorganisms. First, ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and archaea convert ammonia to nitrite, which subsequently is oxidized to nitrate by nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB). The latter were traditionally perceived as physiologically restricted organisms and were less intensively studied than other nitrogen-cycling microorganisms. This picture is contrasted by new discoveries of an unexpected high diversity of mostly uncultured NOB and a great physiological versatility, which includes complex microbe-microbe interactions and lifestyles outside the nitrogen cycle. Most surprisingly, close relatives to NOB perform complete nitrification (ammonia oxidation to nitrate), a process that had been postulated to occur under conditions selecting for low growth rates but high growth yields.

The existence of Nitrospira species that encode all genes required for ammonia and nitrite oxidation was first detected by metagenomic analyses of an enrichment culture for nitrogen-transforming microorganisms sampled from the anoxic compartment of a recirculating aquaculture system biofilter. Batch incubations and FISH-MAR experiments showed that these Nitrospira indeed formed nitrate from the aerobic oxidation of ammonia, and used the energy derived from complete nitrification for carbon fixation, thus proving that they indeed represented the long-sought-after comammox organisms. Their ammonia monooxygenase (AMO) enzymes were distinct from canonical AMOs, therefore rendering recent horizontal gene transfer from known ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms unlikely. Instead, their AMO displayed highest similarities to the “unusual” particulate methane monooxygenase from Crenothrix polyspora, thus shedding new light onto the function of this sequence group. This recognition of a novel AMO type indicates that a whole group of ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms has been overlooked, and will improve our understanding of the environmental abundance and distribution of this functional group. Data mining of publicly available metagenomes already indicated a widespread occurrence in natural and engineered environments like aquifers and paddy soils, and drinking and wastewater treatment systems.

Licence: Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives 4.0 International

Keywords: metagenomics

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Remote created date: 2016-12-16

Remote updated date: 2017-01-11

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