Major role of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in dark ocean carbon fixation

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Science  24 Nov 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6366, pp. 1046-1051
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8260

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Dissolved inorganic carbon fixers revealed

Most of the ocean is dark. Yet it is in this darkness, away from photosynthesizing sunlight, that most planetary carbon cycling occurs. Pachiadaki et al. show that nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in one phylum are the predominant fixers of dissolved inorganic carbon in the mesopelagic ocean. The authors sequenced thousands of single amplified genomes of marine prokaryotes. They identified more than 30 nitrite-oxidizing obligate chemoautotrophic bacteria that were unable to transport carbohydrate and that expressed nitrite oxidoreductase. This enzyme provides electrons to drive a reverse tricarboxylic acid cycle that fixes the carbon. Many of the genomes also suggest organisms that have the capacity to produce ammonium and other substrates, possibly to feed nitrite-producing metabolic partners.

Science, this issue p. 1046


Carbon fixation by chemoautotrophic microorganisms in the dark ocean has a major impact on global carbon cycling and ecological relationships in the ocean’s interior, but the relevant taxa and energy sources remain enigmatic. We show evidence that nitrite-oxidizing bacteria affiliated with the Nitrospinae phylum are important in dark ocean chemoautotrophy. Single-cell genomics and community metagenomics revealed that Nitrospinae are the most abundant and globally distributed nitrite-oxidizing bacteria in the ocean. Metaproteomics and metatranscriptomics analyses suggest that nitrite oxidation is the main pathway of energy production in Nitrospinae. Microautoradiography, linked with catalyzed reporter deposition fluorescence in situ hybridization, indicated that Nitrospinae fix 15 to 45% of inorganic carbon in the mesopelagic western North Atlantic. Nitrite oxidation may have a greater impact on the carbon cycle than previously assumed.

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