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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004 Mar;70(3):1641-50.

Ecophysiological interaction between nitrifying bacteria and heterotrophic bacteria in autotrophic nitrifying biofilms as determined by microautoradiography-fluorescence in situ hybridization.

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  • 1Department of Urban and Environmental Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, Hokkaido University, Sapporo 060-8628, Japan.


Ecophysiological interactions between the community members (i.e., nitrifiers and heterotrophic bacteria) in a carbon-limited autotrophic nitrifying biofilm fed only NH(4)(+) as an energy source were investigated by using a full-cycle 16S rRNA approach followed by microautoradiography (MAR)-fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH). Phylogenetic differentiation (identification) of heterotrophic bacteria was performed by 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis, and FISH probes were designed to determine the community structure and the spatial organization (i.e., niche differentiation) in the biofilm. FISH analysis showed that this autotrophic nitrifying biofilm was composed of 50% nitrifying bacteria (ammonia-oxidizing bacteria [AOB] and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria [NOB]) and 50% heterotrophic bacteria, and the distribution was as follows: members of the alpha subclass of the class Proteobacteria (alpha-Proteobacteria), 23%; gamma-Proteobacteria, 13%; green nonsulfur bacteria (GNSB), 9%; Cytophaga-Flavobacterium-Bacteroides (CFB) division, 2%; and unidentified (organisms that could not be hybridized with any probe except EUB338), 3%. These results indicated that a pair of nitrifiers (AOB and NOB) supported a heterotrophic bacterium via production of soluble microbial products (SMP). MAR-FISH revealed that the heterotrophic bacterial community was composed of bacteria that were phylogenetically and metabolically diverse and to some extent metabolically redundant, which ensured the stability of the ecosystem as a biofilm. alpha- and gamma-Proteobacteria dominated the utilization of [(14)C]acetic acid and (14)C-amino acids in this biofilm. Despite their low abundance (ca. 2%) in the biofilm community, members of the CFB cluster accounted for the largest fraction (ca. 64%) of the bacterial community consuming N-acetyl-D-[1-(14)C]glucosamine (NAG). The GNSB accounted for 9% of the (14)C-amino acid-consuming bacteria and 27% of the [(14)C]NAG-consuming bacteria but did not utilize [(14)C]acetic acid. Bacteria classified in the unidentified group accounted for 6% of the total heterotrophic bacteria and could utilize all organic substrates, including NAG. This showed that there was an efficient food web (carbon metabolism) in the autotrophic nitrifying biofilm community, which ensured maximum utilization of SMP produced by nitrifiers and prevented buildup of metabolites or waste materials of nitrifiers to significant levels.

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