Genomics and ecophysiology of heterotrophic nitrogen fixing bacteria isolated from estuarine surface water

Mikkel Bentzon-Tilia, Ina Severin, Lars H. Hansen, Lasse Riemann

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    The ability to reduce atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to ammonia, known as N2 fixation, is a widely distributed trait among prokaryotes that accounts for an essential input of new N to a multitude of environments. Nitrogenase reductase gene (nifH) composition suggests that putative N2-fixing heterotrophic organisms are widespread in marine bacterioplankton, but their autecology and ecological significance are unknown. Here, we report genomic and ecophysiology data in relation to N2 fixation by three environmentally relevant heterotrophic bacteria isolated from Baltic Sea surface water: Pseudomonas stutzeri strain BAL361 and Raoultella ornithinolytica strain BAL286, which are gammaproteobacteria, and Rhodopseudomonas palustris strain BAL398, an alphaproteobacterium. Genome sequencing revealed that all were metabolically versatile and that the gene clusters encoding the N2 fixation complex varied in length and complexity between isolates. All three isolates could sustain growth by N2 fixation in the absence of reactive N, and this fixation was stimulated by low concentrations of oxygen in all three organisms (≈4 to 40 μmol O2 liter-1). P. stutzeri BAL361 did, however, fix N at up to 165 μmol O2 liter-1, presumably accommodated through aggregate formation. Glucose stimulated N2 fixation in general, and reactive N repressed N2 fixation, except that ammonium (NH4 ) stimulated N2 fixation in R. palustris BAL398, indicating the use of nitrogenase as an electron sink. The lack of correlations between nitrogenase reductase gene expression and ethylene (C2H4) production indicated tight posttranscriptional-level control. The N2 fixation rates obtained suggested that, given the right conditions, these heterotrophic diazotrophs could contribute significantly to in situ rates. IMP
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere00929-15
    JournalmBio (Online)
    Issue number4
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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    This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license, which permits unrestricted noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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