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ISME J. 2015 Mar;9(3):760-9. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2014.149. Epub 2014 Aug 22.

Trimethylamine and trimethylamine N-oxide are supplementary energy sources for a marine heterotrophic bacterium: implications for marine carbon and nitrogen cycling.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK.
School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.


Bacteria of the marine Roseobacter clade are characterised by their ability to utilise a wide range of organic and inorganic compounds to support growth. Trimethylamine (TMA) and trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) are methylated amines (MA) and form part of the dissolved organic nitrogen pool, the second largest source of nitrogen after N2 gas, in the oceans. We investigated if the marine heterotrophic bacterium, Ruegeria pomeroyi DSS-3, could utilise TMA and TMAO as a supplementary energy source and whether this trait had any beneficial effect on growth. In R. pomeroyi, catabolism of TMA and TMAO resulted in the production of intracellular ATP which in turn helped to enhance growth rate and growth yield as well as enhancing cell survival during prolonged energy starvation. Furthermore, the simultaneous use of two different exogenous energy sources led to a greater enhancement of chemoorganoheterotrophic growth. The use of TMA and TMAO primarily as an energy source resulted in the remineralisation of nitrogen in the form of ammonium, which could cross feed into another bacterium. This study provides greater insight into the microbial metabolism of MAs in the marine environment and how it may affect both nutrient flow within marine surface waters and the flux of these climatically important compounds into the atmosphere.

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