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Sci Adv. 2017 Nov 1;3(11):e1700807. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700807. eCollection 2017 Nov.

Adaptability as the key to success for the ubiquitous marine nitrite oxidizer Nitrococcus.

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Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, 28359 Bremen, Germany.
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Southampton SO14 3ZH, UK.
Department of Microbiology and Ecosystem Science, University of Vienna, 1090 Vienna, Austria.
Department of Microbiology, Institute for Water and Wetland Research, Radboud University, 6525 AJ Nijmegen, Netherlands.
Section Microbiology, Biocenter Klein Flottbek, University of Hamburg, 22609 Hamburg, Germany.


Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB) have conventionally been regarded as a highly specialized functional group responsible for the production of nitrate in the environment. However, recent culture-based studies suggest that they have the capacity to lead alternative lifestyles, but direct environmental evidence for the contribution of marine nitrite oxidizers to other processes has been lacking to date. We report on the alternative biogeochemical functions, worldwide distribution, and sometimes high abundance of the marine NOB Nitrococcus. These largely overlooked bacteria are capable of not only oxidizing nitrite but also reducing nitrate and producing nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting agent and greenhouse gas. Furthermore, Nitrococcus can aerobically oxidize sulfide, thereby also engaging in the sulfur cycle. In the currently fast-changing global oceans, these findings highlight the potential functional switches these ubiquitous bacteria can perform in various biogeochemical cycles, each with distinct or even contrasting consequences.

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