Metatranscriptomic Analysis of Groundwater Reveals an Active Anammox Bacterial Population
Abstract:Groundwater is a major natural resource, yet little is known about the contribution of microbial anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) activity to subsurface nitrogen cycling. During anammox, energy is generated as ammonium is oxidized under anaerobic conditions to dinitrogen gas, using nitrite as the final electron acceptor. This process is a global sink for fixed nitrogen. Only a narrow range of monophyletic bacteria within the Planctomycetes carries out anammox, and the full extent of their metabolism, and subsequent impact on nitrogen cycling and microbial community structure, is still unknown. Here, we employ a metatranscriptomic analysis on enriched mRNA to identify the abundance and activity of a population of anammox bacteria within an aquifer at Rifle, CO. Planktonic biomass was collected over a two-month period after injection of up to 1.5 mM nitrate. Illumina-generated sequences were mapped to a phylogenetically binned Rifle metagenome database.
We identified transcripts for genes with high protein sequence identities (81-98%) to those of anammox strain KSU-1 and to two of the five anammox bacteria genera, Brocadia and Kuenenia, suggesting an active, if not diverse, anammox population. Many of the most abundant anammox transcripts mapped to a single scaffold, indicative of a single dominant anammox species. Transcripts of the genes necessary for the anammox pathway were present, including an ammonium transporter (amtB), nitrite/formate transporter, nitrite reductase (nirK), and hydrazine oxidoreductase (hzoB). The form of nitrite reductase encoded by anammox is species-dependent, and we only identified nirK, with no evidence of anammox nirS. In addition to the anammox pathway we saw evidence of the anammox bacterial dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium pathway (narH, putative nrfA, and nrfB), which provides an alternate means of generating substrates for anammox from nitrate, rather than relying on an external pool. Transcripts for hydroxylamine oxidoreductase (HAO) were abundant and more similar to known anammox HAO genes than those used in aerobic ammonia oxidation. The elevated levels of anammox transcripts suggest that anammox may play a significant role in nitrogen cycling within groundwater systems.