Cultivation of an obligate acidophilic ammonia oxidizer from a nitrifying acid soil

Laura E. Lehtovirta-Morley, Kilian Stoecker, Andreas Vilcinskas, James I. Prosser, Graeme W. Nicol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

420 Citations (Scopus)


Nitrification is a fundamental component of the global nitrogen cycle and leads to significant fertilizer loss and atmospheric and groundwater pollution. Nitrification rates in acidic soils (pH < 5.5), which comprise 30% of the world's soils, equal or exceed those of neutral soils. Paradoxically, autotrophic ammonia oxidizing bacteria and archaea, which perform the first stage in nitrification, demonstrate little or no growth in suspended liquid culture below pH 6.5, at which ammonia availability is reduced by ionization. Here we report the discovery and cultivation of a chemolithotrophic, obligately acidophilic thaumarchaeal ammonia oxidizer, "Candidatus Nitrosotalea devanaterra," from an acidic agricultural soil. Phylogenetic analysis places the organism within a previously uncultivated thaumarchaeal lineage that has been observed in acidic soils. Growth of the organism is optimal in the pH range 4 to 5 and is restricted to the pH range 4 to 5.5, unlike all previously cultivated ammonia oxidizers. Growth of this organism and associated ammonia oxidation and autotrophy also occur during nitrification in soil at pH 4.5. The discovery of Nitrosotalea devanaterra provides a previously unsuspected explanation for high rates of nitrification in acidic soils, and confirms the vital role that thaumarchaea play in terrestrial nitrogen cycling. Growth at extremely low ammonia concentration (0.18 nM) also challenges accepted views on ammonia uptake and metabolism and indicates novel mechanisms for ammonia oxidation at low pH.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15892-15897
Number of pages6
Issue number38
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2011


  • acidophile
  • nitrification
  • low PH
  • nitrosomonas-Europaea
  • nitrous-acid
  • oxidation
  • bacteria
  • archaea
  • diversity
  • abundance
  • crenarchaeota


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