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Stable-isotope probing as a tool in microbial ecology

Nature volume 403, pages 646649 (10 February 2000) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Microorganisms are responsible for driving the biogeochemical cycling of elements on Earth. Despite their importance and vast diversity1, the taxonomic identity of the microorganisms involved in any specific process has usually been confined to that small fraction of the microbiota that has been isolated and cultivated. The recent coupling of molecular biological methods with stable-isotope abundance in biomarkers has provided a cultivation-independent means of linking the identity of bacteria with their function in the environment2,3. Here we show that 13C-DNA, produced during the growth of metabolically distinct microbial groups on a 13C-enriched carbon source, can be resolved from 12C-DNA by density-gradient centrifugation. DNA isolated from the target group of microorganisms can be characterized taxonomically and functionally by gene probing and sequence analysis. Application of this technique to investigate methanol-utilizing microorganisms in soil demonstrated the involvement of members of two phylogenetically distinct groups of eubacteria; the α-proteobacterial and Acidobacterium lineages. Stable-isotope probing thus offers a powerful new technique for identifying microorganisms that are actively involved in specific metabolic processes under conditions which approach those occurring in situ .

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. P. Kelly for discussion, C. B. Miguez for Methylobacterium extorquens strain AM155 and Forest Research for access to the study site. Funding was from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) EDGE Programme (S.R., P.I. and J.C.M.), NERC (N.R.P.) with further support from the European Union 4th Framework Programme (J.C.M.).

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Author notes

    • Philip Ineson

    Present address: Department of Biology, University of York, PO Box 373, York YO1 5YW, UK.

Affiliations

  1. *Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick, Coventry, Warwickshire CV4 7AL, UK

    • Stefan Radajewski
    •  & J. Colin Murrell
  2. †Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Merlewood Research Station, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6JU, UK

    • Philip Ineson
    •  & Nisha R. Parekh

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Correspondence to J. Colin Murrell.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/35001054

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