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J Microbiol Methods. 2000 Feb;39(3):197-204.

Identification of major subgroups of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria in environmental samples by T-RFLP analysis of amoA PCR products.

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Max-Planck-Institut für terrestrische Mikrobiologie, Marburg, Germany.


A cloning-independent method based on T-RFLP (terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism) analysis of amoA PCR products was developed to identify major subgroups of autotrophic ammonia oxidizers of the beta-subclass of the class Proteobacteria in total community DNA. Based on a database of 28 partial gene sequences encoding the active-site polypeptide of ammonia monooxygenase (amoA), defined lengths of terminal restriction fragments (= operational taxonomic units, OTUs) of amoA were predicted to correlate in TaqI-based T-RFLP analysis with phylogenetically defined subgroups of ammonia oxidizers. Members of the genus Nitrosospira showed a specific OTU of 283 bp in length, while a fragment size of 219 bp was indicative of Nitrosomonas-like sequence types including N. europaea, N. eutropha, and N. halophila. Two amoA sequence clusters designated previously as the lineages 'PluBsee' and 'Schöhsee' [Rotthauwe, J.-H., Witzel, K.-P., Liesack, W., 1997. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 63, 4704-4712] shared a TaqI-based OTU with a fragment size of 48 bp, but sequence types of these two lineages could be differentiated by AluI-based T-RFLP analysis. A survey of various environmental samples and enrichment cultures by T-RFLP analysis and by comparative analysis of cloned amoA sequences confirmed the predicted correlations between distinct OTUs and phylogenetic information. Our data suggest that amoA-based T-RFLP analysis is a reliable tool to rapidly assess the complexity of ammonia-oxidizing communities in environmental samples with respect to the presence of major subgroups, i.e. nitrosospiras versus nitrosomonads.

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