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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2006 Dec;72(12):7767-77. Epub 2006 Sep 29.

Diversity of ammonia-oxidizing archaea and bacteria in the sediments of a hypernutrified subtropical estuary: Bahía del Tóbari, Mexico.

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  • 1Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Building 320, Room 118, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2115, USA.


Nitrification within estuarine sediments plays an important role in the nitrogen cycle, both at the global scale and in individual estuaries. Although bacteria were once thought to be solely responsible for catalyzing the first and rate-limiting step of this process, several recent studies have suggested that mesophilic Crenarchaeota are capable of performing ammonia oxidation. Here we examine the diversity (richness and community composition) of ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) within sediments of Bahía del Tóbari, a hypernutrified estuary receiving substantial amounts of ammonium in agricultural runoff. Using PCR primers designed to specifically target the archaeal ammonia monooxygenase alpha-subunit (amoA) gene, we found AOA to be present at five sampling sites within this estuary and at two sampling time points (January and October 2004). In contrast, the bacterial amoA gene was PCR amplifiable from only 40% of samples. Bacterial amoA libraries were dominated by a few widely distributed Nitrosomonas-like sequence types, whereas AOA diversity showed significant variation in both richness and community composition. AOA communities nevertheless exhibited consistent spatial structuring, with two distinct end member assemblages recovered from the interior and the mouths of the estuary and a mixed assemblage from an intermediate site. These findings represent the first detailed examination of archaeal amoA diversity in estuarine sediments and demonstrate that diverse communities of Crenarchaeota capable of ammonia oxidation are present within estuaries, where they may be actively involved in nitrification.

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