Impacts of chemical gradients on microbial community structure

Jianwei Chen, Anna Hanke, Halina E Tegetmeyer, Ines Kattelmann, Ritin Sharma, Emmo Hamann, Theresa Hargesheimer, Beate Kraft, Sabine Lenk, Jeanine S Geelhoed, Robert L Hettich, Marc Strous

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Succession of redox processes is sometimes assumed to define a basic microbial community structure for ecosystems with oxygen gradients. In this paradigm, aerobic respiration, denitrification, fermentation and sulfate reduction proceed in a thermodynamically determined order, known as the 'redox tower'. Here, we investigated whether redox sorting of microbial processes explains microbial community structure at low-oxygen concentrations. We subjected a diverse microbial community sampled from a coastal marine sediment to 100 days of tidal cycling in a laboratory chemostat. Oxygen gradients (both in space and time) led to the assembly of a microbial community dominated by populations that each performed aerobic and anaerobic metabolism in parallel. This was shown by metagenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and stable isotope incubations. Effective oxygen consumption combined with the formation of microaggregates sustained the activity of oxygen-sensitive anaerobic enzymes, leading to braiding of unsorted redox processes, within and between populations. Analyses of available metagenomic data sets indicated that the same ecological strategies might also be successful in some natural ecosystems.The ISME Journal advance online publication, 17 January 2017; doi:10.1038/ismej.2016.175.

Original languageEnglish
JournalI S M E Journal
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)920–931
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Ecosystem
  • Geologic Sediments/chemistry
  • Metagenomics
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen
  • Oxygen Consumption


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