Adaptability as the key to success for the ubiquitous marine nitrite oxidizer Nitrococcus

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Science Advances  01 Nov 2017:
Vol. 3, no. 11, e1700807
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700807

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Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB) have conventionally been regarded as a highly specialized functional group responsible for the production of nitrate in the environment. However, recent culture-based studies suggest that they have the capacity to lead alternative lifestyles, but direct environmental evidence for the contribution of marine nitrite oxidizers to other processes has been lacking to date. We report on the alternative biogeochemical functions, worldwide distribution, and sometimes high abundance of the marine NOB Nitrococcus. These largely overlooked bacteria are capable of not only oxidizing nitrite but also reducing nitrate and producing nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting agent and greenhouse gas. Furthermore, Nitrococcus can aerobically oxidize sulfide, thereby also engaging in the sulfur cycle. In the currently fast-changing global oceans, these findings highlight the potential functional switches these ubiquitous bacteria can perform in various biogeochemical cycles, each with distinct or even contrasting consequences.

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