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ISME J. 2012 Feb;6(2):461-70. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.94. Epub 2011 Jul 21.

Measuring unbiased metatranscriptomics in suboxic waters of the central Baltic Sea using a new in situ fixation system.

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Leibniz-Institut für Ostseeforschung Warnemünde (IOW), Section Biological Oceanography, Rostock-Warnemünde, Germany.


An analysis of the microbial metabolism is fundamental to understanding globally important element transformations. One culture-independent approach to deduce those prokaryotic metabolic functions is to analyze metatranscriptomes. Unfortunately, since mRNA is extremely labile, it is unclear whether the abundance patterns detected in nature are vulnerable to considerable modification in situ simply due to sampling procedures. Exemplified on comparisons of metatranscriptomes retrieved from pelagic suboxic zones of the central Baltic Sea (70-120 m depth), earlier identified as areas of high aerobic ammonium oxidation activity, and quantification of specific transcripts in them, we show that different sampling techniques significantly influence the relative abundance of transcripts presumably diagnostic of the habitat. In situ fixation using our newly developed automatic flow injection sampler resulted in an abundance of thaumarchaeal ammonia monooxygenase transcripts that was up to 30-fold higher than that detected in samples obtained using standard oceanographic sampling systems. By contrast, the abundance of transcripts indicative of cellular stress was significantly greater in non-fixed samples. Thus, the importance of in situ fixation in the reliable evaluation of distinct microbial activities in the ecosystem based on metatranscriptomics is obvious. In consequence, our data indicate that the significance of thaumarchaeota to aerobic ammonium oxidation could yet have been considerably underestimated. Taken these results, this could in general also be the case in attempts aimed at an unbiased gene expression analysis of areas below the epipelagic zone, which cover 90% of the world's oceans.

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