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New publications in mSystems and The ISME Journal: Acidobacteria persist in soils through beneficial physiological features

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Soils are one of the most diverse habitats on the planet. More than thousand microbial species that significantly influence numerous environmental processes live here per gram soil. Yet, the living conditions that soil microorganisms encounter are unpredictable and challenging. As such, the majority of these organisms are believed to be in a state of ‘dormancy’ due to various environmental stressors.

An international team led by Dagmar Woebken and Stephanie Eichorst from DoME investigated various survival strategies in a dominant and ubiquitous soil bacterial group, the Acidobacteria. They focused their research on nutrient and oxygen limitation, as in soil both are frequently scarce for long periods. The researchers show that acidobacteria were able to use low-affinity terminal oxidases at nanomolar oxygen concentrations for respiration, in contrast to the established dogma that high-affinity oxidases are required at these concentrations. As low-oxygen habitats are widely distributed on Earth, these findings can have implications for other systems. Furthermore, members of the Acidobacteria have the capacity to oxidize atmospheric H2 during periods of starvation or non-growth. This is a mechanism that can be used to generate energy for bacterial survival during periods of carbon limitation, i.e., nutrient shortage, which is a major advantage in the soil habitat.