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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1995 Apr;61(4):1444-50.

Detection of ammonium-oxidizing bacteria of the beta-subclass of the class Proteobacteria in aquatic samples with the PCR.

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Marine Sciences Program, University of California, Santa Cruz 95064, USA.


The PCR was used as the basis for the development of a sensitive and specific assay for the detection of ammonium-oxidizing bacteria belonging to the beta-subclass of the class Proteobacteria. PCR primers were selected on the basis of nucleic acid sequence data available for seven species of nitrifiers in this subclass. The specificity of the ammonium oxidizer primers was evaluated by testing known strains of nitrifiers, several serotyped environmental nitrifier isolates, and other members of the Proteobacteria, including four very closely related, nonnitrifying species (as determined by rRNA sequence analysis). DNA extracts from 19 bacterio-plankton samples collected from Lake Bonney, Antarctica, and the Southern California Bight were assayed for the presence of ammonium oxidizers. By using a two-stage amplification procedure, ammonium oxidizers were detected in samples collected from both sites. Chemical data collected simultaneously support the occurrence of nitrification and the presence of nitrifiers. This is the first report describing PCR primers specific for ammonium-oxidizing bacteria and the successful amplification of nitrifier genes coding for rRNA from DNA extracts from natural samples. This application of PCR is of particular importance for the detection and study of microbes, such as autotrophic nitrifiers, which are difficult or impossible to isolate from indigenous microbial communities.

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