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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Dec;79(24):7610-7. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02710-13. Epub 2013 Sep 27.

Cell size distributions of soil bacterial and archaeal taxa.

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Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA.


Cell size is a key ecological trait of soil microorganisms that determines a wide range of life history attributes, including the efficiency of nutrient acquisition. However, because of the methodological issues associated with determining cell sizes in situ, we have a limited understanding of how cell abundances vary across cell size fractions and whether certain microbial taxa have consistently smaller cells than other taxa. In this study, we extracted cells from three distinct soils and fractionated them into seven size ranges (5 μm to 0.2 μm) by filtration. Cell abundances in each size fraction were determined by direct microscopy, with the taxonomic composition of each size fraction determined by high-throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene. Most of the cells were smaller than cells typically grown in culture, with 59 to 67% of cells <1.2 μm in diameter. Furthermore, each size fraction harbored distinct bacterial and archaeal communities in each of the three soils, and many of the taxa exhibited distinct size distribution patterns, with the smaller size fractions having higher relative abundances of taxa that are rare or poorly characterized (including Acidobacteria, Gemmatimonadetes, Crenarchaeota, Verrucomicrobia, and Elusimicrobia). In general, there was a direct relationship between average cell size and culturability, with those soil taxa that are poorly represented in culture collections tending to be smaller. Size fractionation not only provides important insight into the life history strategies of soil microbial taxa but also is a useful tool to enable more focused investigations into those taxa that remain poorly characterized.

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