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High Genetic Potential for Proteolytic Decomposition in Northern Peatland Ecosystems

By Emily B. Graham, Fan Yang, Sheryl Bell, Kirsten S. Hofmockel

Posted 24 Jul 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/375428 (published DOI: 10.1128/aem.02851-18)

Nitrogen (N) is a scarce nutrient commonly limiting primary productivity. Microbial decomposition of complex carbon (C) into small organic molecules (e.g., free amino acids) has been suggested to supplement biologically-fixed N in high latitude peatlands. We evaluated the microbial (fungal, bacterial, and archaeal) genetic potential for organic N depolymerization in peatlands at Marcell Experimental Forest (MEF) in northern Minnesota. We used guided gene assembly to examine the abundance and diversity of protease genes; and further compared to those of N-fixing (nifH) genes in shotgun metagenomic data collected across depth at two distinct peatland environments (bogs and fens). Microbial proteases greatly outnumbered nifH genes with the most abundant gene families (archaeal M1 and bacterial Trypsin) each containing more sequences than all sequences attributed to nifH. Bacterial protease gene assemblies were diverse and abundant across depth profiles, indicating a role for bacteria in releasing free amino acids from peptides through depolymerization of older organic material and contrasting the paradigm of fungal dominance in depolymerization in forest soils. Although protease gene assemblies for fungi were much less abundant overall than for bacteria, fungi were prevalent in surface samples and therefore may be vital in degrading large soil polymers from fresh plant inputs during early stage of depolymerization. In total, we demonstrate that depolymerization enzymes from a diverse suite of microorganisms, including understudied bacterial and archaeal lineages, are likely to play a substantial role in C and N cycling within northern peatlands.

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