We assessed soil fungal diversity and community structure at two sampling times (t1 = 47 days and t2 = 104 days of plant age) in pots associated with four maize cultivars, including two genetically modified (GM) cultivars by high-throughput pyrosequencing of the 18S rRNA gene using DNA and RNA templates. We detected no significant differences in soil fungal diversity and community structure associated with different plant cultivars. However, DNA-based analyses yielded lower fungal OTU richness as compared to RNA-based analyses. Clear differences in fungal community structure were also observed in relation to sampling time and the nucleic acid pool targeted (DNA versus RNA). The most abundant soil fungi, as recovered by DNA-based methods, did not necessary represent the most “active” fungi (as recovered via RNA). Interestingly, RNA-derived community compositions at t1 were highly similar to DNA-derived communities at t2, based on presence/absence measures of OTUs. We recovered large proportions of fungal sequences belonging to arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and Basidiomycota, especially at the RNA level, suggesting that these important and potentially beneficial fungi are not affected by the plant cultivars nor by GM traits (Bt toxin production). Our results suggest that even though DNA- and RNA-derived soil fungal communities can be very different at a given time, RNA composition may have a predictive power of fungal community development through time.
The cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops has increased significantly over the last decades. However, concerns have been raised that some GM traits may negatively affect beneficial soil biota, such as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), potentially leading to alterations in soil functioning. Here, we test two maize varieties expressing the Bacillus thuringiensis Cry1Ab endotoxin (Bt maize) for their effects on soil AM fungal communities. We target both fungal DNA and RNA, which is new for AM fungi, and we use two strategies as an inclusive and robust way of detecting community differences: (i) 454 pyrosequencing using general fungal rRNA gene-directed primers and (ii) terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) profiling using AM fungus-specific markers. Potential GM-induced effects were compared to the normal natural variation of AM fungal communities across 15 different agricultural fields. AM fungi were found to be abundant in the experiment, accounting for 8% and 21% of total recovered DNA- and RNA-derived fungal sequences, respectively, after 104 days of plant growth. RNA- and DNA-based sequence analyses yielded most of the same AM fungal lineages. Our research yielded three major conclusions. First, no consistent differences were detected between AM fungal communities associated with GM plants and non-GM plants. Second, temporal variation in AMF community composition (between two measured time points) was bigger than GM trait-induced variation. Third, natural variation of AMF communities across 15 agricultural fields in The Netherlands, as well as within-field temporal variation, was much higher than GM-induced variation. In conclusion, we found no indication that Bt maize cultivation poses a risk for AMF.
Because of severe abiotic limitations, Antarctic soils represent simplified systems, where microorganisms are the principal drivers of nutrient cycling. This relative simplicity makes these ecosystems particularly vulnerable to perturbations, like global warming, and the Antarctic Peninsula is among the most rapidly warming regions on the planet. However, the consequences of the ongoing warming of Antarctica on microorganisms and the processes they mediate are unknown. Here, using 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing and qPCR, we report highly consistent responses in microbial communities across disparate sub-Antarctic and Antarctic environments in response to 3 years of experimental field warming (+0.5 to 2 °C). Specifically, we found significant increases in the abundance of fungi and bacteria and in the Alphaproteobacteria-to-Acidobacteria ratio, which could result in an increase in soil respiration. Furthermore, shifts toward generalist bacterial communities following warming weakened the linkage between the bacterial taxonomic and functional richness. GeoChip microarray analyses also revealed significant warming effects on functional communities, specifically in the N-cycling microorganisms. Our results demonstrate that soil microorganisms across a range of sub-Antarctic and Antarctic environments can respond consistently and rapidly to increasing temperatures.
Antarctica; carbon cycle; GeoChip microarrays; global warming; nitrogen cycle; open-top chambers
Using a phyllosphere model system, we demonstrated that the term ‘carrying capacity', as it is commonly used in microbial ecology, needs to be understood as the sum of many ‘local carrying capacities' in order to better explain and predict the course and outcome of bacterial colonization of an environment. Using a green fluorescent protein-based bioreporter system for the quantification of reproductive success (RS) in individual Erwinia herbicola cells, we were able to reconstruct the contribution of individual immigrants to bacterial population sizes on leaves. Our analysis revealed that plant foliage represents to bacteria an environment where individual fate is determined by the local carrying capacity of the site where an immigrant cell lands. With increasing inoculation densities, the RS of most immigrants declined, suggesting that local carrying capacity under the tested conditions was linked to local nutrient availability. Fitting the observed experimental data to an adapted model of phyllosphere colonization indicated that there might exist three types of sites on leaves, which differ in their frequency of occurrence and local carrying capacity. Specifically, our data were consistent with a leaf environment that is characterized by few sites where individual immigrants can produce high numbers of offspring, whereas the remainder of the leaf offered an equal number of sites with low and medium RS. Our findings contribute to a bottom–up understanding of bacterial colonization of leaf surfaces, which includes a quantifiable role of chance in the experience at the individual level and in the outcome at the population level.
individual-based ecology; environmental heterogeneity; bioreporter; phyllosphere; single-cell microbiology; modeling
The 16S rRNA gene is the gold standard in molecular surveys of bacterial and archaeal diversity, but it has the disadvantages that it is often multiple-copy, has little resolution below the species level and cannot be readily interpreted in an evolutionary framework. We compared the 16S rRNA marker with the single-copy, protein-coding rpoB marker by amplifying and sequencing both from a single soil sample. Because the higher genetic resolution of the rpoB gene prohibits its use as a universal marker, we employed consensus-degenerate primers targeting the Proteobacteria.
Pyrosequencing can be problematic because of the poor resolution of homopolymer runs. As these erroneous runs disrupt the reading frame of protein-coding sequences, removal of sequences containing nonsense mutations was found to be a valuable filter in addition to flowgram-based denoising. Although both markers gave similar estimates of total diversity, the rpoB marker revealed more species, requiring an order of magnitude fewer reads to obtain 90% of the true diversity. The application of population genetic methods was demonstrated on a particularly abundant sequence cluster.
The rpoB marker can be a complement to the 16S rRNA marker for high throughput microbial diversity studies focusing on specific taxonomic groups. Additional error filtering is possible and tests for recombination or selection can be employed.
This report details the outcome of the 1st International Earth Microbiome Project Conference. The 2-day conference was held at the Kingkey Palace Hotel, Shenzhen, China, on the 14th-15th June 2011, and was hosted by BGI (formally the Beijing Genomics Institute). The conference was arranged as a formal launch for the Earth Microbiome Project, to highlight some of the exciting research projects, results of the preliminary pilot studies, and to provide a discussion forum for the types of technology and experimental approaches that will come to define the standard operating procedures of this project.
Soil microorganisms drive critical functions in plant-soil systems. As such, various microbial properties have been proposed as indicators of soil functioning, making them potentially useful in evaluating the recovery of polluted soils via phytoremediation strategies. To evaluate microbial responses to metal phytoextraction using hyperaccumulators, a microcosm experiment was carried out to study the impacts of Zn and/or Cd pollution and Thlaspi caerulescens growth on key soil microbial properties: basal respiration; substrate-induced respiration (SIR); bacterial community structure as assessed by PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE); community sizes of total bacteria, ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, and chitin-degrading bacteria as assessed by quantitative PCR (Q-PCR); and functional gene distributions as determined by functional gene arrays (GeoChip). T. caerulescens proved to be suitable for Zn and Cd phytoextraction: shoots accumulated up to 8,211 and 1,763 mg kg−1 (dry weight [DW]) of Zn and Cd, respectively. In general, Zn pollution led to decreased levels of basal respiration and ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, while T. caerulescens growth increased the values of substrate-induced respiration (SIR) and total bacteria. In soils polluted with 1,000 mg Zn kg−1 and 250 mg Cd kg−1 (DW), soil bacterial community profiles and the distribution of microbial functional genes were most affected by the presence of metals. Metal-polluted and planted soils had the highest percentage of unique genes detected via the GeoChip (35%). It was possible to track microbial responses to planting with T. caerulescens and to gain insight into the effects of metal pollution on soilborne microbial communities.
The bacterial phylum Acidobacteria has a widespread distribution and is one of the most common and diverse phyla in soil habitats. However, members of this phylum have often been recalcitrant to cultivation methods, hampering the study of this presumably important bacterial group. In this study, we used a cultivation-independent metagenomic approach to recover genomic information from soilborne members of this phylum. A soil metagenomic fosmid library was screened by PCR targeting acidobacterial 16S rRNA genes, facilitating the recovery of 17 positive clones. Recovered inserts appeared to originate from a range of Acidobacteria subdivisions, with dominance of subdivision 6 (10 clones). Upon full-length insert sequencing, gene annotation identified a total of 350 open reading frames (ORFs), representing a broad range of functions. Remarkably, six inserts from subdivision 6 contained a region of gene synteny, containing genes involved in purine de novo biosynthesis and encoding tRNA synthetase and conserved hypothetical proteins. Similar genomic regions had previously been observed in several environmental clones recovered from soil and marine sediments, facilitating comparisons with respect to gene organization and evolution. Comparative analyses revealed a general dichotomy between marine and terrestrial genes in both phylogeny and G+C content. Although the significance of this homologous gene cluster across subdivision 6 members is not known, it appears to be a common feature within a large percentage of all acidobacterial genomic fragments recovered from both of these environments.
With the quantity of genomic data increasing at an exponential rate, it is imperative that these data be captured electronically, in a standard format. Standardization activities must proceed within the auspices of open-access and international working bodies. To tackle the issues surrounding the development of better descriptions of genomic investigations, we have formed the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC). Here, we introduce the minimum information about a genome sequence (MIGS) specification with the intent of promoting participation in its development and discussing the resources that will be required to develop improved mechanisms of metadata capture and exchange. As part of its wider goals, the GSC also supports improving the ‘transparency’ of the information contained in existing genomic databases.
Diagnostics and disease-management strategies require technologies to enable the simultaneous detection and quantification of a wide range of pathogenic microorganisms. Most multiplex, quantitative detection methods available suffer from compromises between the level of multiplexing, throughput and accuracy of quantification. Here, we demonstrate the efficacy of a novel, high-throughput, ligation-based assay for simultaneous quantitative detection of multiple plant pathogens. The ligation probes, designated Plant Research International-lock probes (PRI-lock probes), are long oligonucleotides with target complementary regions at their 5' and 3' ends. Upon perfect target hybridization, the PRI-lock probes are circularized via enzymatic ligation, subsequently serving as template for individual, standardized amplification via unique probe-specific primers. Adaptation to OpenArrays™, which can accommodate up to 3072 33 nl PCR amplifications, allowed high-throughput real-time quantification. The assay combines the multiplex capabilities and specificity of ligation reactions with high-throughput real-time PCR in the OpenArray™, resulting in a flexible, quantitative multiplex diagnostic system.
The performance of the PRI-lock detection system was demonstrated using 13 probes targeting several significant plant pathogens at different taxonomic levels. All probes specifically detected their corresponding targets and provided perfect discrimination against non-target organisms with very similar ligation target sites. The nucleic acid targets could be reliably quantified over 5 orders of magnitude with a dynamic detection range of more than 104. Pathogen quantification was equally robust in single target versus mixed target assays.
This novel assay enables very specific, high-throughput, quantitative detection of multiple pathogens over a wide range of target concentrations and should be easily adaptable for versatile diagnostic purposes.
In the collective genomes (the metagenome) of the microorganisms inhabiting the Earth’s diverse environments is written the history of life on this planet. New molecular tools developed and used for the past 15 years by microbial ecologists are facilitating the extraction, cloning, screening, and sequencing of these genomes. This approach allows microbial ecologists to access and study the full range of microbial diversity, regardless of our ability to culture organisms, and provides an unprecedented access to the breadth of natural products that these genomes encode. However, there is no way that the mere collection of sequences, no matter how expansive, can provide full coverage of the complex world of microbial metagenomes within the foreseeable future. Furthermore, although it is possible to fish out highly informative and useful genes from the sea of gene diversity in the environment, this can be a highly tedious and inefficient procedure. Microbial ecologists must be clever in their pursuit of ecologically relevant, valuable, and niche-defining genomic information within the vast haystack of microbial diversity. In this report, we seek to describe advances and prospects that will help microbial ecologists glean more knowledge from investigations into metagenomes. These include technological advances in sequencing and cloning methodologies, as well as improvements in annotation and comparative sequence analysis. More significant, however, will be ways to focus in on various subsets of the metagenome that may be of particular relevance, either by limiting the target community under study or improving the focus or speed of screening procedures. Lastly, given the cost and infrastructure necessary for large metagenome projects, and the almost inexhaustible amount of data they can produce, trends toward broader use of metagenome data across the research community coupled with the needed investment in bioinformatics infrastructure devoted to metagenomics will no doubt further increase the value of metagenomic studies in various environments.
Despite the importance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in the majority of terrestrial ecosystems, their ecology, genetics, and evolution are poorly understood, partly due to difficulties associated with detecting and identifying species. We explored the inter- and intraspecies variations of the 18S rRNA genes of the genus Gigaspora to assess the use of this marker for the discrimination of Gigaspora isolates and of Gigasporaceae populations from environmental samples. Screening of 48 Gigaspora isolates by PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) revealed that the V3-V4 region of the 18S rRNA gene contained insufficient variation to discriminate between different Gigaspora species. In contrast, the patterns of 18S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) heterogeneity within the V9 region of this marker could be used for reliable identification of all recognized species within this genus. PCR-DGGE patterns provided insight into some putative misidentifications and could be used to differentiate geographic isolates of G. albida, G. gigantea, and G. margarita but not G. rosea. Two major clusters were apparent based upon PCR-DGGE ribotype patterns, one containing G. albida, G. candida, G. ramisporophora, and G. rosea and the other containing G. decipiens and G. margarita. Dissection of the DGGE patterns by cloning, DGGE screening, and sequencing confirmed these groupings and revealed that some ribotypes were shared across species boundaries. Of the 48 isolates examined, only two displayed any spore-to-spore variation, and these exceptions may be indicative of coisolation of more than one species or subspecies within these cultures. Two Brazilian agricultural soils were also analyzed with a Gigasporaceae-specific nested PCR approach, revealing a dominance of G. margarita within this family.
Most soils inhibit fungal germination and growth to a certain extent, a phenomenon known as soil fungistasis. Previous observations have implicated microorganisms as the causal agents of fungistasis, with their action mediated either by available carbon limitation (nutrient deprivation hypothesis) or production of antifungal compounds (antibiosis hypothesis). To obtain evidence for either of these hypotheses, we measured soil respiration and microbial numbers (as indicators of nutrient stress) and bacterial community composition (as an indicator of potential differences in the composition of antifungal components) during the development of fungistasis. This was done for two fungistatic dune soils in which fungistasis was initially fully or partly relieved by partial sterilization treatment or nutrient addition. Fungistasis development was measured as restriction of the ability of the fungi Chaetomium globosum, Fusarium culmorum, Fusarium oxysporum, and Trichoderma harzianum to colonize soils. Fungistasis did not always reappear after soil treatments despite intense competition for carbon, suggesting that microbial community composition is important in the development of fungistasis. Both microbial community analysis and in vitro antagonism tests indicated that the presence of pseudomonads might be essential for the development of fungistasis. Overall, the results lend support to the antibiosis hypothesis.
It has frequently been reported that chitinolytic soil bacteria, in particular biocontrol strains, can lyse living fungal hyphae, thereby releasing potential growth substrate. However, the conditions used in such assays (high bacterial density, rich media, fragmented hyphae) make it difficult to determine whether mycolytic activity is actually of importance for the growth and survival of chitinolytic bacteria in soils. An unidentified group of β-subclass Proteobacteria (CβPs) was most dominant among the culturable nonfilamentous chitinolytic bacteria isolated from Dutch sand dune soils. Here we demonstrate that the CβPs grew at the expense of extending fungal mycelium of three dune soil fungi (Chaetomium globosum, Fusarium culmorum, and Mucor hiemalis) under nutrient-limiting, soil-like conditions. Aggregates of CβPs were also often found attached to fungal hyphae. The growth of a control group of dominant nonchitinolytic dune soil bacteria (β- and γ-subclass Proteobacteria) was not stimulated in the mycelial zone, indicating that growth-supporting materials were not independently released in appreciable amounts by the extending hyphae. Therefore, mycolytic activities of CβPs have apparently been involved in allowing them to grow after exposure to living hyphae. The chitinase inhibitor allosamidin did not, in the case of Mucor, or only partially, in the cases of Chaetomium and Fusarium, repress mycolytic growth of the CβPs, indicating that chitinase activity alone could not explain the extent of bacterial proliferation. Chitinolytic Stenotrophomonas-like and Cytophaga-like bacteria, isolated from the same dune soils, were only slightly stimulated by exposure to fungal hyphae.
A defined template mixture of seven closely related 16S-rDNA clones was used in a PCR-cloning experiment to assess and track sources of artifactual sequence variation in 16S rDNA clone libraries. At least 14% of the recovered clones contained aberrations. Artifact sources were polymerase errors, a mutational hot spot, and cloning of heteroduplexes and chimeras. These data may partially explain the high degree of microheterogeneity typical of sequence clusters detected in environmental clone libraries.
The effect of developing chrysanthemum roots on the presence and activity of bacterial populations in the rhizosphere was examined by using culture-independent methods. Nucleic acids were extracted from rhizosphere soil samples associated with the bases of roots or root tips of plants harvested at different stages of development. PCR and reverse transcriptase (RT) PCR were used to amplify 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) and 16S rRNA, respectively, and the products were subjected to denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE). Prominent DGGE bands were excised and sequenced to gain insight into the identities of predominantly present (PCR) and predominantly active (RT-PCR) bacterial populations. The majority of DGGE band sequences were related to bacterial genera previously associated with the rhizosphere, such as Pseudomonas, Comamonas, Variovorax, and Acetobacter, or typical of root-free soil environments, such as Bacillus and Arthrobacter. The PCR-DGGE patterns observed for bulk soil were somewhat more complex than those obtained from rhizosphere samples, and the latter contained a subset of the bands present in bulk soil. DGGE analysis of RT-PCR products detected a subset of bands visible in the rDNA-based analysis, indicating that some dominantly detected bacterial populations did not have high levels of metabolic activity. The sequences detected by the RT-PCR approach were, however, derived from a wide taxonomic range, suggesting that activity in the rhizosphere was not determined at broad taxonomic levels but rather was a strain- or species-specific phenomenon. Comparative analysis of DGGE profiles grouped all DNA-derived root tip samples together in a cluster, and within this cluster the root tip samples from young plants formed a separate subcluster. Comparison of rRNA-derived bacterial profiles showed no grouping of root tip samples versus root base samples. Rather, all profiles derived from 2-week-old plant rhizosphere soils grouped together regardless of location along the root.
Autotrophic ammonia oxidizer (AAO) populations in soils from native, tilled, and successional treatments at the Kellogg Biological Station Long-Term Ecological Research site in southwestern Michigan were compared to assess effects of disturbance on these bacteria. N fertilization effects on AAO populations were also evaluated with soils from fertilized microplots within the successional treatments. Population structures were characterized by PCR amplification of microbial community DNA with group-specific 16S rRNA gene (rDNA) primers, cloning of PCR products and clone hybridizations with group-specific probes, phylogenetic analysis of partial 16S rDNA sequences, and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis. Population sizes were estimated by using most-probable-number (MPN) media containing varied concentrations of ammonium sulfate. Tilled soils contained higher numbers than did native soils of culturable AAOs that were less sensitive to different ammonium concentrations in MPN media. Compared to sequences from native soils, partial 16S rDNA sequences from tilled soils were less diverse and grouped exclusively within Nitrosospira cluster 3. Native soils yielded sequences representing three different AAO clusters. Probes for Nitrosospira cluster 3 hybridized with DGGE blots from tilled and fertilized successional soils but not with blots from native or unfertilized successional soils. Hybridization results thus suggested a positive association between the Nitrosospira cluster 3 subgroup and soils amended with inorganic N. DGGE patterns for soils sampled from replicated plots of each treatment were nearly identical for tilled and native soils in both sampling years, indicating spatial and temporal reproducibility based on treatment.
Although the practice of composting animal wastes for use as biofertilizers has increased in recent years, little is known about the microorganisms responsible for the nitrogen transformations which occur in compost and during the composting process. Ammonia is the principle available nitrogenous compound in composting material, and the conversion of this compound to nitrite in the environment by chemolithotrophic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria is an essential step in nitrogen cycling. Therefore, the distribution of ammonia-oxidizing members of the β subdivision of the class Proteobacteria in a variety of composting materials was assessed by amplifying 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) and 16S rRNA by PCR and reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR), respectively. The PCR and RT-PCR products were separated by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and were identified by hybridization with a hierarchical set of oligonucleotide probes designed to detect ammonia oxidizer-like sequence clusters in the genera Nitrosospira and Nitrosomonas. Ammonia oxidizer-like 16S rDNA was detected in almost all of the materials tested, including industrial and experimental composts, manure, and commercial biofertilizers. A comparison of the DGGE and hybridization results after specific PCR and RT-PCR suggested that not all of the different ammonia oxidizer groups detected in compost are equally active. amoA, the gene encoding the active-site-containing subunit of ammonia monooxygenase, was also targeted by PCR, and template concentrations were estimated by competitive PCR. Detection of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in the composts tested suggested that such materials may not be biologically inert with respect to nitrification and that the fate of nitrogen during composting and compost storage may be affected by the presence of these organisms.
A multidisciplinary approach was used to study the effects of pollution from a marine fish farm on nitrification rates and on the community structure of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in the underlying sediment. Organic content, ammonium concentrations, nitrification rates, and ammonia oxidizer most-probable-number counts were determined in samples of sediment collected from beneath a fish cage and on a transect at 20 and 40 m from the cage. The data suggest that nitrogen cycling was significantly disrupted directly beneath the fish cage, with inhibition of nitrification and denitrification. Although visual examination indicated some slight changes in sediment appearance at 20 m, all other measurements were similar to those obtained at 40 m, where the sediment was considered pristine. The community structures of proteobacterial β-subgroup ammonia-oxidizing bacteria at the sampling sites were compared by PCR amplification of 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA), using primers which target this group. PCR products were analyzed by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and with oligonucleotide hybridization probes specific for different ammonia oxidizers. A DGGE doublet observed in PCR products from the highly polluted fish cage sediment sample was present at a lower intensity in the 20-m sample but was absent from the pristine 40-m sample station. Band migration, hybridization, and sequencing demonstrated that the doublet corresponded to a marine Nitrosomonas group which was originally observed in 16S rDNA clone libraries prepared from the same sediment samples but with different PCR primers. Our data suggest that this novel Nitrosomonas subgroup was selected for within polluted fish farm sediments and that the relative abundance of this group was influenced by the extent of pollution.
Contamination of soils with toxic metals is a major problem on military, industrial, and mining sites worldwide. Of particular interest to the field of bioremediation is the selection of biological markers for the end point of remediation. In this microcosm study, we focus on the effect of addition of a mixture of toxic metals (cadmium, cobalt, cesium, and strontium as chlorides) to soil on the population structure and size of the ammonia oxidizers that are members of the beta subgroup of the Proteobacteria (β-subgroup ammonia oxidizers). In a parallel experiment, the soils were also treated by the addition of five strains of metal-resistant heterotrophic bacteria. Effects on nitrogen cycling were measured by monitoring the NH3 and NH4+ levels in soil samples. The gene encoding the α-subunit of ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) was selected as a functional molecular marker for the β-subgroup ammonia oxidizing bacteria. Community structure comparisons were performed with clone libraries of PCR-amplified fragments of amoA recovered from contaminated and control microcosms for 8 weeks. Analysis was performed by restriction digestion and sequence comparison. The abundance of ammonia oxidizers in these microcosms was also monitored by competitive PCR. All amoA gene fragments recovered grouped with sequences derived from cultured Nitrosospira. These comprised four novel sequence clusters and a single unique clone. Specific changes in the community structure of β-subgroup ammonia oxidizers were associated with the addition of metals. These changes were not seen in the presence of the inoculated metal-resistant bacteria. Neither treatment significantly altered the total number of β-subgroup ammonia-oxidizing cells per gram of soil compared to untreated controls. Following an initial decrease in concentration, ammonia began to accumulate in metal-treated soils toward the end of the experiment.
A combination of denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and oligonucleotide probing was used to investigate the influence of soil pH on the compositions of natural populations of autotrophic β-subgroup proteobacterial ammonia oxidizers. PCR primers specific to this group were used to amplify 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) from soils maintained for 36 years at a range of pH values, and PCR products were analyzed by DGGE. Genus- and cluster-specific probes were designed to bind to sequences within the region amplified by these primers. A sequence specific to all β-subgroup ammonia oxidizers could not be identified, but probes specific for Nitrosospira clusters 1 to 4 and Nitrosomonas clusters 6 and 7 (J. R. Stephen, A. E. McCaig, Z. Smith, J. I. Prosser, and T. M. Embley, Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 62:4147–4154, 1996) were designed. Elution profiles of probes against target sequences and closely related nontarget sequences indicated a requirement for high-stringency hybridization conditions to distinguish between different clusters. DGGE banding patterns suggested the presence of Nitrosomonas cluster 6a and Nitrosospira clusters 2, 3, and 4 in all soil plots, but results were ambiguous because of overlapping banding patterns. Unambiguous band identification of the same clusters was achieved by combined DGGE and probing of blots with the cluster-specific radiolabelled probes. The relative intensities of hybridization signals provided information on the apparent selection of different Nitrosospira genotypes in samples of soil of different pHs. The signal from the Nitrosospira cluster 3 probe decreased significantly, relative to an internal control probe, with decreasing soil pH in the range of 6.6 to 3.9, while Nitrosospira cluster 2 hybridization signals increased with increasing soil acidity. Signals from Nitrosospira cluster 4 were greatest at pH 5.5, decreasing at lower and higher values, while Nitrosomonas cluster 6a signals did not vary significantly with pH. These findings are in agreement with a previous molecular study (J. R. Stephen, A. E. McCaig, Z. Smith, J. I. Prosser, and T. M. Embley, Appl. Environ. Microbiol 62:4147–4154, 1996) of the same sites, which demonstrated the presence of the same four clusters of ammonia oxidizers and indicated that selection might be occurring for clusters 2 and 3 at acid and neutral pHs, respectively. The two studies used different sets of PCR primers for amplification of 16S rDNA sequences from soil, and the similar findings suggest that PCR bias was unlikely to be a significant factor. The present study demonstrates the value of DGGE and probing for rapid analysis of natural soil communities of β-subgroup proteobacterial ammonia oxidizers, indicates significant pH-associated differences in Nitrosospira populations, and suggests that Nitrosospira cluster 2 may be of significance for ammonia-oxidizing activity in acid soils.