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Microb Ecol. 2006 May;51(4):516-25. Epub 2006 Apr 29.

Molecular diversity of nifH genes from bacteria associated with high arctic dwarf shrubs.

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Ecosystem Science & Management Program, University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, BC, Canada, V2N 4Z9.


Biological nitrogen fixation is the primary source of new N in terrestrial arctic ecosystems and is fundamental to the long-term productivity of arctic plant communities. Still, relatively little is known about the nitrogen-fixing microbes that inhabit the soils of many dominant vegetation types. Our objective was to determine which diazotrophs are associated with three common, woody, perennial plants in an arctic glacial lowland. Dryas integrifolia, Salix arctica, and Cassiope tetragona plants in soil were collected at Alexandra Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Canada. DNA was extracted from soil and root samples and a 383-bp fragment of the nifH gene amplified by the polymerase chain reaction. Cloned genotypes were screened for similarity by restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) analysis. Nine primary RFLP phylotypes were identified and 42 representative genotypes selected for sequencing. Majority of sequences (33) were type I nitrogenases, whereas the remaining sequences belonged to the divergent, homologous, type IV group. Within the type I nitrogenases, nifH genes from posited members of the Firmicutes were most abundant, and occurred in root and soil samples from all three plant species. nifH genes from posited Pseudomonads were found to be more closely associated with C. tetragona, whereas nifH genes from putative alpha-Proteobacteria were more commonly associated with D. integrifolia and S. arctica. In addition, 12 clones likely representing a unique clade within the type I nitrogenases were identified. To our knowledge, this study is the first to report on the nifH diversity of arctic plant-associated soil microbes.

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