Denitrifying alphaproteobacteria from the Arabian Sea that express nosZ, the gene encoding nitrous oxide reductase, in oxic and suboxic waters

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Apr;79(8):2670-81. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03705-12. Epub 2013 Feb 8.


Marine ecosystems are significant sources of the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O). A by-product of nitrification and an intermediate in the denitrification pathway, N2O is formed primarily in oxygen-deficient waters and sediments. We describe the isolation of a group of alphaproteobacteria from the suboxic waters of the Arabian Sea that are phylogenetically affiliated with Labrenzia spp. and other denitrifiers. Quantitative PCR assays revealed that these organisms were very broadly distributed in this semienclosed ocean basin. Their biogeographical range extended from the productive, upwelling region off the Omani shelf to the clear, oligotrophic waters that are found much further south and also included the mesotrophic waters overlying the oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) in the northeastern sector of the Arabian Sea. These organisms actively expressed NosZ (N2O reductase, the terminal step in the denitrification pathway) within the OMZ, an established region of pelagic denitrification. They were found in greatest numbers outside the OMZ, however, and nosZ mRNAs were also readily detected near the base of the upper mixed layer in nutrient-poor, oxic regions. Our findings provide firm molecular evidence of a potential sink for N2O within well-ventilated, oceanic surface waters in this biogeochemically important region. We show that the Labrenzia-like denitrifiers and their close relatives are habitual colonizers of the pseudobenthic environment provided by Trichodesmium spp. We develop the conjecture that the O2-depleted microzones that occur within the colonies of these filamentous, diazotrophic cyanobacteria might provide unexpected niches for the reduction of nitrogen oxides in tropical and subtropical surface waters.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alphaproteobacteria / genetics*
  • Alphaproteobacteria / isolation & purification
  • Alphaproteobacteria / metabolism*
  • Aquatic Organisms
  • Denitrification
  • Indian Ocean
  • Middle East
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Nitrification
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism*
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Water Microbiology


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Oxidoreductases
  • nitrous oxide reductase

Associated data

  • GENBANK/JN850957
  • GENBANK/JN850958
  • GENBANK/JX827176
  • GENBANK/JX827177
  • GENBANK/KC205088