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ISME J. 2012 Nov;6(11):2128-39. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2012.57. Epub 2012 Jun 14.

One millimetre makes the difference: high-resolution analysis of methane-oxidizing bacteria and their specific activity at the oxic-anoxic interface in a flooded paddy soil.

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Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Department of Biogeochemistry, Marburg, Germany.


Aerobic methane-oxidizing bacteria (MOB) use a restricted substrate range, yet >30 species-equivalent operational taxonomical units (OTUs) are found in one paddy soil. How these OTUs physically share their microhabitat is unknown. Here we highly resolved the vertical distribution of MOB and their activity. Using microcosms and cryosectioning, we sub-sampled the top 3-mm of a water-saturated soil at near in situ conditions in 100-μm steps. We assessed the community structure and activity using the particulate methane monooxygenase gene pmoA as a functional and phylogenetic marker by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (t-RFLP), a pmoA-specific diagnostic microarray, and cloning and sequencing. pmoA genes and transcripts were quantified using competitive reverse transcriptase PCR combined with t-RFLP. Only a subset of the methanotroph community was active. Oxygen microprofiles showed that 89% of total respiration was confined to a 0.67-mm-thick zone immediately above the oxic-anoxic interface, most probably driven by methane oxidation. In this zone, a Methylobacter-affiliated OTU was highly active with up to 18 pmoA transcripts per cell and seemed to be adapted to oxygen and methane concentrations in the micromolar range. Analysis of transcripts with a pmoA-specific microarray found a Methylosarcina-affiliated OTU associated with the surface zone. High oxygen but only nanomolar methane concentrations at the surface suggested an adaptation of this OTU to oligotrophic conditions. No transcripts of type II methanotrophs (Methylosinus, Methylocystis) were found, which indicated that this group was represented by resting stages only. Hence, different OTUs within a single guild shared the same microenvironment and exploited different niches.

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