Stable isotope probing analysis of interactions between ammonia oxidizers

Maria Tourna, Thomas E. Freitag, James I. Prosser

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46 Citations (Scopus)


The response of natural microbial communities to environmental change can be assessed by determining DNA- or RNA-targeted changes in relative abundance of 16S rRNA gene sequences by using fingerprinting techniques such as denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DNA-DGGE and RNA-DGGE, respectively) or by stable isotope probing (SIP) of 16S rRNA genes following incubation with a 13C-labeled substrate (DNA-SIP-DGGE). The sensitivities of these three approaches were compared during batch growth of communities containing two or three Nitrosospira pure or enriched cultures with different tolerances to a high ammonia concentration. Cultures were supplied with low, intermediate, or high initial ammonia concentrations and with 13C-labeled carbon dioxide. DNA-SIP-DGGE provided the most direct evidence for growth and was the most sensitive, with changes in DGGE profiles evident before changes in DNA- and RNA-DGGE profiles and before detectable increases in nitrite and nitrate production. RNA-DGGE provided intermediate sensitivity. In addition, the three molecular methods were used to follow growth of individual strains within communities. In general, changes in relative activities of individual strains within communities could be predicted from monoculture growth characteristics. Ammonia-tolerant Nitrosospira cluster 3b strains dominated mixed communities at all ammonia concentrations, and ammonia-sensitive strains were outcompeted at an intermediate ammonia concentration. However, coexistence of ammonia-tolerant and ammonia-sensitive strains occurred at the lowest ammonia concentration, and, under some conditions, strains inhibited at high ammonia in monoculture were active at high ammonia in mixed cultures, where they coexisted with ammonia-tolerant strains. The results therefore demonstrate the sensitivity of SIP for detection of activity of organisms with relatively low yield and low activity and its ability to follow changes in the structure of interacting microbial communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2468-2477
Number of pages10
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
Early online date1 Feb 2010
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • ammonia
  • carbon isotopes
  • DNA fingerprinting
  • DNA, bacterial
  • electrophoresis, polyacrylamide gel
  • molecular sequence data
  • nitrates
  • nitrites
  • nitrosomonadaceae
  • nucleic acid denaturation
  • oxidation-reduction
  • RNA, bacterial
  • sensitivity and specificity
  • sequence analysis, DNA
  • staining and labeling


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