Rhizosphere bacterial carbon turnover is higher in nucleic acids than membrane lipids: Implications for understanding soil carbon cycling

Ashish A. Malik, Helena Dannert, Robert I. Griffiths, Bruce C. Thomson, Gerd Gleixner*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Using a pulse chase 13CO2 plant labeling experiment we compared the flow of plant carbon into macromolecular fractions of rhizosphere soil microorganisms. Time dependent 13C dilution patterns in microbial cellular fractions were used to calculate their turnover time. The turnover times of microbial biomolecules were found to vary: microbial RNA (19 h) and DNA (30 h) turned over fastest followed by chloroform fumigation extraction-derived soluble cell lysis products (14 days), while phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) had the slowest turnover (42 days). PLFA/NLFA 13C analyses suggest that both mutualistic arbuscular mycorrhizal and saprophytic fungi are dominant in initial plant carbon uptake. In contrast, high initial 13C enrichment in RNA hints at bacterial importance in initial C uptake due to the dominance of bacterial derived RNA in total extracts of soil RNA. To explain this discrepancy, we observed low renewal rate of bacterial lipids, which may therefore bias lipid fatty acid based interpretations of the role of bacteria in soil microbial food webs. Based on our findings, we question current assumptions regarding plant-microbe carbon flux and suggest that the rhizosphere bacterial contribution to plant assimilate uptake could be higher. This highlights the need for more detailed quantitative investigations with nucleic acid biomarkers to further validate these findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number268
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Early online date9 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2015

Bibliographical note

We thank Agnes Fastnacht, Karl Kuebler, Steffen Ruehlow, Iris Kuhlmann, Heike Geilmann, Petra Linke, and Willi Brand for technical support in establishing the experimental setup and/or with stable isotope analyses. We also thank Bernhard Ahrens and Daniel Read for helpful discussions. This project was funded by the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. We acknowledge Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for the fellowship to AAM in the research training group 1257 ‘Alteration and element mobility at microbe-mineral interface’ that is part of the Jena School for Microbial Communication (JSMC). AAM was also supported by the International Max Planck Research School for Global Biogeochemical Cycles (IMPRS-gBGC).


  • C tracer experiment
  • Bacteria
  • Carbon
  • DNA
  • Fungi
  • PLFA
  • RNA
  • Soil


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