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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Single cell genomic and transcriptomic evidence for the use of alternative nitrogen substrates by anammox bacteria


Anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) contributes substantially to ocean nitrogen loss, particularly in anoxic marine zones (AMZs). Ammonium is scarce in AMZs, raising the hypothesis that organic nitrogen compounds may be ammonium sources for anammox. Biochemical measurements suggest that the organic compounds urea and cyanate can support anammox in AMZs. However, it is unclear if anammox bacteria degrade these compounds to ammonium themselves, or rely on other organisms for this process. Genes for urea degradation have not been found in anammox bacteria, and genomic evidence for cyanate use for anammox is limited to a cyanase gene recovered from the sediment bacterium Candidatus Scalindua profunda. Here, analysis of Ca. Scalindua single amplified genomes from the Eastern Tropical North Pacific AMZ revealed genes for urea degradation and transport, as well as for cyanate degradation. Urease and cyanase genes were transcribed, along with anammox genes, in the AMZ core where anammox rates peaked. Homologs of these genes were also detected in meta-omic datasets from major AMZs in the Eastern Tropical South Pacific and Arabian Sea. These results suggest that anammox bacteria from different ocean regions can directly access organic nitrogen substrates. Future studies should assess if and under what environmental conditions these substrates contribute to the ammonium budget for anammox.

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