The Stochastic Assembly of Nitrobacter winogradskyi-Selected Microbiomes with Heterotrophs from Sewage Sludge or Grassland Soil

Hendrikus J. Laanbroek* (Corresponding author), Noriko A. Cassman, Rosalinde M. Keijzer, Eiko E. Kuramae

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Downloads (Pure)


Chemolitho-autotrophic microorganisms like the nitrite-oxidizing Nitrobacter winogradskyi create an environment for heterotrophic microorganisms that profit from the production of organic compounds. It was hypothesized that the assembly of a community of heterotrophic microorganisms around N. winogradskyi depends on the ecosystem from which the heterotrophs are picked. To test this hypothesis, pure cultures of N. winogradskyi were grown in continuously nitrite-fed bioreactors in a mineral medium free of added organic carbon that had been inoculated with diluted sewage sludge or with a suspension from a grassland soil. Samples for chemical and 16S rRNA gene amplicon analyses were taken after each volume change in the bioreactor. At the end of the enrichment runs, samples for shotgun metagenomics were also collected. Already after two volume changes, the transformations in community structure became less dynamic. The enrichment of heterotrophs from both sewage and soil was highly stochastic and yielded different dominant genera in most of the enrichment runs that were independent of the origin of the inoculum. Hence, the hypothesis had to be refuted. Notwithstanding the large variation in taxonomic community structure among the enrichments, the functional compositions of the communities were statistically not different between soil- and sludge-based enrichments. IMPORTANCE In the process of aerobic nitrification, nitrite-oxidizing bacteria together with ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms convert mineral nitrogen from its most reduced appearance, i.e., ammonium, into its most oxidized form, i.e., nitrate. Because the form of mineral nitrogen has large environmental implications, nitrite-oxidizing bacteria such as Nitrobacter winogradskyi play a central role in the global biogeochemical nitrogen cycle. In addition to this central role, the autotrophic nitrite-oxidizing bacteria also play a fundamental role in the global carbon cycle. They form the basis of heterotrophic food webs, in which the assimilated carbon is recycled. Little is known about the heterotrophic microorganisms that participate in these food webs, let alone their assembly in different ecosystems. This study showed that the assembly of microbial food webs by N. winogradskyi was a highly stochastic process and independent of the origin of the heterotrophic microorganisms, but the functional characteristics of the different food webs were similar.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00783-22
Pages (from-to)e0078322
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • heterotrophic microorganisms
  • microbiome
  • nitrite oxidation
  • Nitrobacter winogradskyi
  • sewage
  • sewage sludge
  • soil


Dive into the research topics of 'The Stochastic Assembly of Nitrobacter winogradskyi-Selected Microbiomes with Heterotrophs from Sewage Sludge or Grassland Soil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this