Global occurrence and biogeography of putative archaeal amoA genes in terrestrial hot springs

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Despite the ubiquity of ammonium in geothermal environments and the thermodynamic favorability of aerobic ammonia oxidation, thermophilic ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms belonging to the crenarchaeota kingdom have only recently been described. In this study, we analyzed microbial mats and surface sediments from 21 hot spring samples (pH 3.4 to 9.0; temperature, 41 to 86°C) from the United States, China, and Russia and obtained 846 putative archaeal ammonia monooxygenase large-subunit (amoA) gene and transcript sequences, representing a total of 41 amoA operational taxonomic units (OTUs) at 2% identity. The amoA gene sequences were highly diverse, yet they clustered within two major clades of archaeal amoA sequences known from water columns, sediments, and soils: clusters A and B. Eighty-four percent (711/846) of the sequences belonged to cluster A, which is typically found in water columns and sediments, whereas 16% (135/846) belonged to cluster B, which is typically found in soils and sediments. Although a few amoA OTUs were present in several geothermal regions, most were specific to a single region. In addition, cluster AamoA genes formed geographic groups, while cluster B sequences did not group geographically. With the exception of only one hot spring, principal-component analysis and UPGMA (unweighted-pair group method using average linkages) based on the UniFrac metric derived from cluster A grouped the springs by location, regardless of temperature or bulk water pH, suggesting that geography may play a role in structuring communities of putative ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA). The amoA genes were distinct from those of low-temperature environments; in particular, pair-wise comparisons between hot spring amoAgenes and those from sympatric soils showed less than 85% sequence identity, underscoring the distinctness of hot spring archaeal communities from those of the surrounding soil system. Reverse transcription-PCR showed that amoA genes were transcribed in situ in one spring and the transcripts were closely related to the amoA genes amplified from the same spring. Our study demonstrates the global occurrence of putative archaeal amoA genes in a wide variety of terrestrial hot springs and suggests that geography may play an important role in selecting different assemblages of AOA.


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Genetics and Genomics | Life Sciences | Microbiology