The Unaccounted Yet Abundant Nitrous Oxide-Reducing Microbial Community: A Potential Nitrous Oxide Sink

ISME J. 2013 Feb;7(2):417-26. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2012.125. Epub 2012 Nov 15.


Nitrous oxide (N(2)O) is a major radiative forcing and stratospheric ozone-depleting gas emitted from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. It can be transformed to nitrogen gas (N(2)) by bacteria and archaea harboring the N(2)O reductase (N(2)OR), which is the only known N(2)O sink in the biosphere. Despite its crucial role in mitigating N(2)O emissions, knowledge of the N(2)OR in the environment remains limited. Here, we report a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis of the nosZ gene coding the N(2)OR in genomes retrieved from public databases. The resulting phylogeny revealed two distinct clades of nosZ, with one unaccounted for in studies investigating N(2)O-reducing communities. Examination of N(2)OR structural elements not considered in the phylogeny revealed that the two clades differ in their signal peptides, indicating differences in the translocation pathway of the N(2)OR across the membrane. Sequencing of environmental clones of the previously undetected nosZ lineage in various environments showed that it is widespread and diverse. Using quantitative PCR, we demonstrate that this clade was most often at least as abundant as the other, thereby more than doubling the known extent of the overall N(2)O-reducing community in the environment. Furthermore, we observed that the relative abundance of nosZ from either clade varied among habitat types and environmental conditions. Our results indicate a physiological dichotomy in the diversity of N(2)O-reducing microorganisms, which might be of importance for understanding the relationship between the diversity of N(2)O-reducing microorganisms and N(2)O reduction in different ecosystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Archaea / classification
  • Archaea / enzymology
  • Archaea / genetics
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Denitrification*
  • Ecosystem
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Nitrous Oxide / metabolism*
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics*
  • Phylogeny*
  • Soil Microbiology*


  • Oxidoreductases
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Nitrogen