Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria: a model for molecular microbial ecology

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2001;55:485-529. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.55.1.485.


The eutrophication of many ecosystems in recent decades has led to an increased interest in the ecology of nitrogen transformation. Chemolitho-autotrophic ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are responsible for the rate-limiting step of nitrification in a wide variety of environments, making them important in the global cycling of nitrogen. These organisms are unique in their ability to use the conversion of ammonia to nitrite as their sole energy source. Because of the importance of this functional group of bacteria, understanding of their ecology and physiology has become a subject of intense research over recent years. The monophyletic nature of these bacteria in terrestrial environments has facilitated molecular biological approaches in studying their ecology, and progress in this field has been rapid. The ammonia-oxidizing bacteria of the beta-subclass Proteobacteria have become somewhat of a model system within molecular microbial ecology, and this chapter reviews recent progress in our knowledge of their distribution, diversity, and ecology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / economics
  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Betaproteobacteria / metabolism
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Gram-Negative Chemolithotrophic Bacteria / genetics
  • Gram-Negative Chemolithotrophic Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Negative Chemolithotrophic Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Nitrobacter / metabolism
  • Nitrosomonas / metabolism
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / analysis


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Ammonia