Nitrogenase expression in estuarine bacterioplankton influenced by organic carbon and availability of oxygen

Ina Severin, Mikkel Bentzon-Tilia, Pia H. Moisander, Lasse Riemann

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The genetic capacity to fix gaseous nitrogen (N) is distributed among diverse diazotrophs belonging to the Bacteria and Archaea. However, only a subset of the putative diazotrophs present actively fix N at any given time in the environment. We experimentally tested whether the availability of carbon and inhibition by oxygen constrain N fixation by diazotrophs in coastal seawater. The goal was to test whether by alleviating these constraints an increased overlap between nitrogenase (nifH)-gene- carrying and -expressing organisms could be achieved. We incubated water from a eutrophic but N-limited fjord in Denmark under high carbon/low oxygen conditions and determined bacterial growth and production, diazotrophic community composition (Illumina nifH amplicon sequencing), and nifH gene abundance and expression (quantitative PCR (qPCR) and quantitative Reverse Transcriptase PCR (qRT-PCR)). Bacterial abundances and production increased under high carbon/low oxygen conditions as did the similarity between present and active diazotrophic communities. This was caused by the loss of specific abundant yet non-active gammaproteobacterial phylotypes and increased expression by others. The prominent active gamma- and epsilonproteobacterial diazotrophs did not, however, respond to these conditions in a uniform way, highlighting the difficulty to assess how a change in environmental conditions may affect a diverse indigenous diazotrophic community.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfnv105
JournalF E M S Microbiology Letters
Issue number14
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Bacterial activity
  • Limiting factors
  • Nitrogen fixation


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