Major gradients in putatively nitrifying and non-nitrifying Archaea in the deep North Atlantic.

Department of Biological Oceanography, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (Royal NIOZ), PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, Texel, The Netherlands.
Nature (Impact Factor: 38.6). 12/2008; 456(7223):788-91. DOI: 10.1038/nature07535
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Aerobic nitrification of ammonia to nitrite and nitrate is a key process in the oceanic nitrogen cycling mediated by prokaryotes. Apart from Bacteria belonging to the beta- and gamma-Proteobacteria involved in the first nitrification step, Crenarchaeota have recently been recognized as main drivers of the oxidation of ammonia to nitrite in soil as well as in the ocean, as indicated by the dominance of archaeal ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) genes over bacterial amoA. Evidence is accumulating that archaeal amoA genes are common in a wide range of marine systems. Essentially, all these reports focused on surface and mesopelagic (200-1,000 m depth) waters, where ammonia concentrations are higher than in waters below 1,000 m depth. However, Crenarchaeota are also abundant in the water column below 1,000 m, where ammonia concentrations are extremely low. Here we show that, throughout the North Atlantic Ocean, the abundance of archaeal amoA genes decreases markedly from subsurface waters to 4,000 m depth, and from subpolar to equatorial deep waters, leading to pronounced vertical and latitudinal gradients in the ratio of archaeal amoA to crenarchaeal 16S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes. The lack of significant copy numbers of amoA genes and the very low fixation rates of dark carbon dioxide in the bathypelagic North Atlantic suggest that most bathypelagic Crenarchaeota are not autotrophic ammonia oxidizers: most likely, they utilize organic matter and hence live heterotrophically.

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