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Microbiome. 2017 Sep 2;5(1):112. doi: 10.1186/s40168-017-0331-1.

Members of the Candidate Phyla Radiation are functionally differentiated by carbon- and nitrogen-cycling capabilities.

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Department of Microbiology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.
School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Columbus, OH, USA.
Department of Microbiology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.
School of Earth Sciences, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.



The Candidate Phyla Radiation (CPR) is a recently described expansion of the tree of life that represents more than 15% of all bacterial diversity and potentially contains over 70 different phyla. Despite this broad phylogenetic variation, these microorganisms appear to feature little functional diversity, with members generally characterized as obligate fermenters. Additionally, much of the data describing CPR phyla has been generated from a limited number of environments, constraining our knowledge of their functional roles and biogeographical distribution. To expand our understanding of subsurface CPR microorganisms, we sampled four separate groundwater wells over 2 years across three Ohio counties.


Samples were analyzed using 16S rRNA gene amplicon and shotgun metagenomic sequencing. Amplicon results indicated that CPR members comprised between 2 and 20% of the microbial communities with relative abundances stable through time in Athens and Greene samples but dynamic in Licking groundwater. Shotgun metagenomic analyses generated 71 putative CPR genomes, representing roughly 32 known phyla and 2 putative new phyla, Candidatus Brownbacteria and Candidatus Hugbacteria. While these genomes largely mirrored metabolic characteristics of known CPR members, some features were previously uncharacterized. For instance, nitrite reductase, encoded by nirK, was found in four of our Parcubacteria genomes and multiple CPR genomes from other studies, indicating a potentially undescribed role for these microorganisms in denitrification. Additionally, glycoside hydrolase (GH) family profiles for our 71 genomes and over 2000 other CPR genomes were analyzed to characterize their carbon-processing potential. Although common trends were present throughout the radiation, differences highlighted potential mechanisms that could allow microorganisms across the CPR to occupy various subsurface niches. For example, members of the Microgenomates superphylum appear to potentially degrade a wider range of carbon substrates than other CPR phyla.


CPR members are present across a range of environments and often constitute a significant fraction of the microbial population in groundwater systems, particularly. Further sampling of such environments will resolve this portion of the tree of life at finer taxonomic levels, which is essential to solidify functional differences between members that populate this phylogenetically broad region of the tree of life.


Candidate phyla; Carbon; Groundwater; Nitrogen; Subsurface

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