Ammonia oxidation at pH 2.5 by a new gammaproteobacterial ammonia-oxidizing bacterium

ISME J. 2021 Apr;15(4):1150-1164. doi: 10.1038/s41396-020-00840-7. Epub 2020 Dec 10.


Ammonia oxidation was considered impossible under highly acidic conditions, as the protonation of ammonia leads to decreased substrate availability and formation of toxic nitrogenous compounds. Recently, some studies described archaeal and bacterial ammonia oxidizers growing at pH as low as 4, while environmental studies observed nitrification at even lower pH values. In this work, we report on the discovery, cultivation, and physiological, genomic, and transcriptomic characterization of a novel gammaproteobacterial ammonia-oxidizing bacterium enriched via continuous bioreactor cultivation from an acidic air biofilter that was able to grow and oxidize ammonia at pH 2.5. This microorganism has a chemolithoautotrophic lifestyle, using ammonia as energy source. The observed growth rate on ammonia was 0.196 day-1, with a doubling time of 3.5 days. The strain also displayed ureolytic activity and cultivation with urea as ammonia source resulted in a growth rate of 0.104 day-1 and a doubling time of 6.7 days. A high ammonia affinity (Km(app) = 147 ± 14 nM) and high tolerance to toxic nitric oxide could represent an adaptation to acidic environments. Electron microscopic analysis showed coccoid cell morphology with a large amount of intracytoplasmic membrane stacks, typical of gammaproteobacterial ammonia oxidizers. Furthermore, genome and transcriptome analysis showed the presence and expression of diagnostic genes for nitrifiers (amoCAB, hao, nor, ure, cbbLS), but no nirK was identified. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that this strain belonged to a novel bacterial genus, for which we propose the name "Candidatus Nitrosacidococcus tergens" sp. RJ19.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia*
  • Archaea
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Nitrification
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phylogeny
  • Soil Microbiology*


  • Ammonia