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FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2004 Sep 1;49(3):433-43. doi: 10.1016/j.femsec.2004.04.012.

Detection and widespread distribution of the nrfA gene encoding nitrite reduction to ammonia, a short circuit in the biological nitrogen cycle that competes with denitrification.

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School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK.


Degenerate primers to detect nrfA were designed by aligning six nrfA sequences including Escherichia coli K-12, Sulfurospirillum deleyianum and Wolinella succinogenes. These primers amplified a 490 bp fragment of nrfA. The ability of these primers to detect nrfA was tested with chromosomal DNA isolated from a variety of bacteria: they could distinguish between bacteria in which the gene is known to be present or absent. The positive reference organisms spanned the various classes of Proteobacteria, suggesting that these primers are probably generic. The primer pair F1 and R1 was also used successfully to analyse nrfA diversity from community DNA isolated from a sulphate reducing bioreactor, and from two established Anammox reactors (for an aerobic ammonia oxidation, in which nitrite is reduced by ammonia to dinitrogen gas). The nrfA clones isolated from these three sources grouped with the Bacteroidetes phylum. The nrfA primers also amplified 570 bp fragments from the Anammox community DNA. These fragments encoded a protein with four haem-binding motifs typical of a c-type cytochrome, but were unrelated to the NrfA nitrite reductase. A BLAST search failed to reveal similarity to any known proteins. However, similarity was found to one sequence, which was annotated as rapC (response regulator aspartate phosphatase), in the genome of the planctomycete Rhodopirellula baltica. These sequences possibly belong to a new class of c-type cytochrome that might be specific to members of the order Planctomycetales. The data are consistent with the proposal that cytochrome c nitrite reductases, present in the periplasm of Gram-negative bacteria, are widely distributed in many different environments where they provide a short circuit in the biological nitrogen cycle by reducing nitrite directly to ammonia.

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