Marine ammonia-oxidizing archaeal isolates display obligate mixotrophy and wide ecotypic variation

Wei Qin, Shady A. Amin, Willm Martens-Habbena, Christopher B. Walker, Hidetoshi Urakawa, Allan H. Devol, Anitra E. Ingalls, James W. Moffett, E. Virginia Armbrust, David A. Stahl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) are now implicated in exerting significant control over the form and availability of reactive nitrogen species in marine environments. Detailed studies of specific metabolic traits and physicochemical factors controlling their activities and distribution have not been well constrained in part due to the scarcity of isolated AOA strains. Here, we report the isolation of two new coastal marine AOA, strains PS0 and HCA1. Comparison of the new strains to Nitrosopumilus maritimus strain SCM1, the only marine AOA in pure culture thus far, demonstrated distinct adaptations to pH, salinity, organic carbon, temperature, and light. Strain PS0 sustained nearly 80% of ammonia oxidation activity at a pH as low as 5.9, indicating that coastal strains may be less sensitive to the ongoing reduction in ocean pH. Notably, the two novel isolates are obligate mixotrophs that rely on uptake and assimilation of organic carbon compounds, suggesting a direct coupling between chemolithotrophy and organic matter assimilation in marine food webs. All three isolates showed only minor photoinhibition at 15 μE·m -2·s-1 and rapid recovery of ammonia oxidation in the dark, consistent with an AOA contribution to the primary nitrite maximum and the plausibility of a diurnal cycle of archaeal ammonia oxidation activity in the euphotic zone. Together, these findings highlight an unexpected adaptive capacity within closely related marine group I Archaea and provide new understanding of the physiological basis of the remarkable ecological success reflected by their generally high abundance in marine environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12504-12509
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number34
StatePublished - Aug 26 2014


  • Ecophysiology
  • Marine ammonia-oxidizing archaea
  • Urea utilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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