Cyanate and urea are substrates for nitrification by Thaumarchaeota in the marine environment release_kwr4r7tkufdrtdbjqo37tvdsoa

by Katharina Kitzinger, Cory C. Padilla, Hannah K. Marchant, Philipp F. Hach, Craig W. Herbold, Abiel T. Kidane, Martin Könneke, Sten Littmann, Maria Mooshammer, Jutta Niggemann, Sandra Petrov, Andreas Richter (+4 others)

Published in Nature Microbiology by Springer Nature.

Volume 4, Issue 2 p234-243 (2018)


Ammonia-oxidizing archaea of the phylum Thaumarchaeota are among the most abundant marine microorganisms1. These organisms thrive in the oceans despite ammonium being present at low nanomolar concentrations2,3. Some Thaumarchaeota isolates have been shown to utilize urea and cyanate as energy and N sources through intracellular conversion to ammonium4-6. Yet, it is unclear whether patterns observed in culture extend to marine Thaumarchaeota, and whether Thaumarchaeota in the ocean directly utilize urea and cyanate or rely on co-occurring microorganisms to break these substrates down to ammonium. Urea utilization has been reported for marine ammonia-oxidizing communities7-10, but no evidence of cyanate utilization exists for marine ammonia oxidizers. Here, we demonstrate that in the Gulf of Mexico, Thaumarchaeota use urea and cyanate both directly and indirectly as energy and N sources. We observed substantial and linear rates of nitrite production from urea and cyanate additions, which often persisted even when ammonium was added to micromolar concentrations. Furthermore, single-cell analysis revealed that the Thaumarchaeota incorporated ammonium-, urea- and cyanate-derived N at significantly higher rates than most other microorganisms. Yet, no cyanases were detected in thaumarchaeal genomic data from the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, we tested cyanate utilization in Nitrosopumilus maritimus, which also lacks a canonical cyanase, and showed that cyanate was oxidized to nitrite. Our findings demonstrate that marine Thaumarchaeota can use urea and cyanate as both an energy and N source. On the basis of these results, we hypothesize that urea and cyanate are substrates for ammonia-oxidizing Thaumarchaeota throughout the ocean.
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