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Environ Microbiol. 2011 Jul;13(7):1800-14. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02491.x. Epub 2011 May 12.

Bacterial populations and environmental factors controlling cellulose degradation in an acidic Sphagnum peat.

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1
S.N. Winogradsky Institute of Microbiology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow 117312, Russia.

Abstract

Northern peatlands represent a major global carbon store harbouring approximately one-third of the global reserves of soil organic carbon. A large proportion of these peatlands consists of acidic Sphagnum-dominated ombrotrophic bogs, which are characterized by extremely low rates of plant debris decomposition. The degradation of cellulose, the major component of Sphagnum-derived litter, was monitored in long-term incubation experiments with acidic (pH 4.0) peat extracts. This process was almost undetectable at 10°C and occurred at low rates at 20°C, while it was significantly accelerated at both temperature regimes by the addition of available nitrogen. Cellulose breakdown was only partially inhibited in the presence of cycloheximide, suggesting that bacteria participated in this process. We aimed to identify these bacteria by a combination of molecular and cultivation approaches and to determine the factors that limit their activity in situ. The indigenous bacterial community in peat was dominated by Alphaproteobacteria and Acidobacteria. The addition of cellulose induced a clear shift in the community structure towards an increase in the relative abundance of the Bacteroidetes. Increasing temperature and nitrogen availability resulted in a selective development of bacteria phylogenetically related to Cytophaga hutchinsonii (94-95% 16S rRNA gene sequence similarity), which densely colonized microfibrils of cellulose. Among isolates obtained from this community only some subdivision 1 Acidobacteria were capable of degrading cellulose, albeit at a very slow rate. These Acidobacteria represent indigenous cellulolytic members of the microbial community in acidic peat and are easily out-competed by Cytophaga-like bacteria under conditions of increased nitrogen availability. Members of the phylum Firmicutes, known to be key players in cellulose degradation in neutral habitats, were not detected in the cellulolytic community enriched at low pH.

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