Phylogenetic differences between particle-associated and planktonic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria of the beta subdivision of the class Proteobacteria in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea

C J Phillips, Z Smith, T M Embley, J I Prosser

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The aim of this study was to determine if there were differences between the types of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria of the beta subdivision of the class Proteobacteria associated with particulate material and planktonic samples obtained from the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. A nested PCR procedure performed with ammonia oxidizer-selective primers was used to amplify 16S rKNA genes from extracted DNA. The results of partial and full-length sequence analyses of 16S rRNA genes suggested that different groups of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria were associated with the two sample types. The particle-associated sequences were predominantly related to Nitrosomonas eutropha, while the sequences obtained from the planktonic samples were related to a novel marine Nitrosospira group (cluster 1) for which there is no cultured representative yet. A number of oligonucleotide probes specific for different groups of ammonia oxidizers were used to estimate the relative abundance of sequence types in samples of clone libraries. The planktonic libraries contained lower proportions of ammonia oxidizer clones (0 to 26%) than the particulate material libraries (9 to 83%). Samples of the planktonic and particle-associated libraries showed that there were depth-related differences in the ammonia oxidizer populations, with the highest number of positive clones in the particle-associated sample occurring at a depth of 700 m. The greatest difference between planktonic and particle-associated populations occurred at a depth of 400 m, where only 4% of the clones in the planktonic library were identified as Nitrosomonas clones, while 96% of these clones were identified as clones that were related to the marine Nitrosospira species. Conversely, all ammonia oxidizer-positive clones obtained from the particle-associated library were members of the Nitrosomonas group. This is the first indication that Nitrosomonas species and Nitrosospira species may occupy at least two distinct environmental niches in marine environments. The occurrence of these groups in different niches may result from differences in physiological properties and, coupled with the different environmental conditions associated with these niches, may lead to significant differences in the nature and rates of nitrogen cycling in these environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)779-786
Number of pages8
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 1999


  • PCR

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