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Study of nitrogen fixation in microbial communities of oil-contaminated marine sediment microcosms

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Musat,  F.
Department of Microbiology, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Harder,  J.
Department of Microbiology, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Widdel,  F.
Department of Microbiology, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Musat, F., Harder, J., & Widdel, F. (2006). Study of nitrogen fixation in microbial communities of oil-contaminated marine sediment microcosms. Environmental Microbiology, 8(10), 1834-1843.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-D3D2-3
Abstract
Aerobic microbial degradation of pollutant oil (petroleum) in aquatic environments is often severely limited by the availability of combined nitrogen. We therefore studied whether the microbial community enriched in marine sediment microcosms with an added oil layer and exposure to light harboured nitrogenase activity. The acetylene reduction (AR) assay indeed indicated active nitrogenase; however, similar activity was observed in oil-free control microcosms. In both microcosms, the AR rate was significantly reduced upon a dark shift, indicating that enriched cyanobacteria were the dominant diazotrophs. Analysis of structural dinitrogenase reductase genes (nifH) amplified from both microcosms indeed revealed NifH sequences related mostly to those of heterocystous cyanobacteria. NifH sequences typically affiliating with those of heterotrophic bacteria were more frequently retrieved from the oil-containing sediment. Expression analyses showed that mainly nifH genes similar to those of heterocystous cyanobacteria were expressed in the light. Upon a dark shift, nifH genes related to those of non-heterocystous cyanobacteria were expressed. Expression of nifH assignable to heterotrophs was apparently not significant. It is concluded that cyanobacteria are the main contributors of fixed nitrogen to oil-contaminated and pristine sediments if nitrogen is a limiting factor and if light is available. Hence, also the oil-degrading heterotrophic community may thus receive a significant part of combined nitrogen from cyanobacteria, even though oil vice versa apparently does not stimulate an additional nitrogen fixation in the enriched community.