Publications in peer reviewed journals

7 Publications found
  • Is Too Much Fertilizer a Problem?

    Sedlacek C, Giguere A, Pjevac P
    2020 - Front. Young Minds, 8: 63


    Fertilizers are added to crops in order to produce enough food to feed the human population. Fertilizers provide crops with nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen, which allow crops to grow bigger, faster, and to produce more food. Nitrogen in particular is an essential nutrient for the growth of every organism on Earth. Nitrogen is all around us and makes up about 78% of the air you breathe. However, plants and animals cannot use the nitrogen gas in the air. To grow, plants require nitrogen compounds from the soil, which can be produced naturally or be provided by fertilizers. However, applying excessive amounts of fertilizer leads to the release of harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the eutrophication of our waterways. Scientists are currently trying to find solutions to reduce the environmentally harmful effects of fertilizers, without reducing the amount of food we can produce when using them.

  • Composition and activity of nitrifier communities in soil are unresponsive to elevated temperature and CO, but strongly affected by drought.

    Séneca J, Pjevac P, Canarini A, Herbold CW, Zioutis C, Dietrich M, Simon E, Prommer J, Bahn M, Pötsch EM, Wagner M, Wanek W, Richter A
    2020 - ISME J,


    Nitrification is a fundamental process in terrestrial nitrogen cycling. However, detailed information on how climate change affects the structure of nitrifier communities is lacking, specifically from experiments in which multiple climate change factors are manipulated simultaneously. Consequently, our ability to predict how soil nitrogen (N) cycling will change in a future climate is limited. We conducted a field experiment in a managed grassland and simultaneously tested the effects of elevated atmospheric CO, temperature, and drought on the abundance of active ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA), comammox (CMX) Nitrospira, and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), and on gross mineralization and nitrification rates. We found that N transformation processes, as well as gene and transcript abundances, and nitrifier community composition were remarkably resistant to individual and interactive effects of elevated CO and temperature. During drought however, process rates were increased or at least maintained. At the same time, the abundance of active AOB increased probably due to higher NH availability. Both, AOA and comammox Nitrospira decreased in response to drought and the active community composition of AOA and NOB was also significantly affected. In summary, our findings suggest that warming and elevated CO have only minor effects on nitrifier communities and soil biogeochemical variables in managed grasslands, whereas drought favors AOB and increases nitrification rates. This highlights the overriding importance of drought as a global change driver impacting on soil microbial community structure and its consequences for N cycling.

  • Gut microbiota and undigested food constituents modify toxin composition and suppress the genotoxicity of a naturally occurring mixture of Alternaria toxins in vitro.

    Crudo F, Aichinger G, Mihajlovic J, Dellafiora L, Varga E, Puntscher H, Warth B, Dall'Asta C, Berry D, Marko D
    2020 - Arch. Toxicol.,


    Molds of the genus Alternaria produce several mycotoxins, some of which may pose a threat for health due to their genotoxicity. Due to the lack of adequate toxicological and occurrence data, they are currently not regulated. Interactions between mycotoxins, gut microbiota and food constituents might occur after food ingestion, modifying the bioavailability and, therefore, overall toxicity of mycotoxins. The present work aimed to investigate the impact of in vitro short-term fecal incubation on the in vitro DNA-damaging effects exerted by 5 µg/mL of an Alternaria alternata extract, containing, among others, 15 nM alternariol, 12 nM alternariol monomethyl ether, 241 nM altertoxin II and 301 nM stemphyltoxin III, all of which are known as genotoxic. The involvement of microorganisms, undigested food constituents and soluble substances of human fecal samples in modifying the composition and the genotoxicity of the extract was investigated through the application of LC-MS/MS analysis and comet assays in HT-29 cells. Results showed that the potential of the mycotoxins to induce DNA strand breaks was almost completely quenched, even before anaerobic incubation, by contact with the different fractions of the fecal samples, while the potency to induce formamidopyrimidine DNA glycosylase (FPG)-sensitive sites was only slightly reduced. These effects were in line with a reduction of mycotoxin concentrations found in samples analyzed by LC-MS/MS. Although a direct correlation between the metabolic activity of the gut microbiota and modifications in mycotoxin contents was not clearly observed, adsorptive phenomena to bacterial cells and to undigested food constituents might explain the observed modifications.

  • The role of metal contamination in shaping microbial communities in heavily polluted marine sediments.

    Di Cesare A, Pjevac P, Eckert E, Curkov N, Miko Šparica M, Corno G, Orlić S
    2020 - Environ. Pollut., 114823


    Microorganisms in coastal sediments are fundamental for ecosystem functioning, and regulate processes relevant in global biogeochemical cycles. Still, our understanding of the effects anthropogenic perturbation and pollution can have on microbial communities in marine sediments is limited. We surveyed the microbial diversity, and the occurrence and abundance of metal and antibiotic resistance genes is sediments collected from the Pula Bay (Croatia), one of the most significantly polluted sites along the Croatian coast. With a collection of 14 samples from the bay area, we were able to generate a detailed status quo picture of a site that only recently started a cleaning and remediation process (closing of sewage pipes and reduction of industrial activity). The concentrations of heavy metals in Pula Bay sediments are significantly higher than in pristine sediments from the Adriatic Sea, and in some cases, manifold exceed international sediment quality guidelines. While the sedimentary concentrations of heavy metals did significantly influence the abundance of the tested metal resistance genes, no strong effect of heavy metal pollution on the overall microbial community composition was observed. Like in many other marine sediments, Gammaproteobacteria, Bacteroidota and Desulfobacterota dominated the microbial community composition in most samples, and community assembly was primarily driven by water column depth and nutrient (carbon and nitrogen) availability, regardless of the degree of heavy metal pollution.

  • Activity and Metabolic Versatility of Complete Ammonia Oxidizers in Full-Scale Wastewater Treatment Systems.

    Yang Y, Daims H, Liu Y, Herbold CW, Pjevac P, Lin JG, Li M, Gu JD
    2020 - MBio, 2: e03175-19


    The recent discovery of complete ammonia oxidizers (comammox) contradicts the paradigm that chemolithoautotrophic nitrification is always catalyzed by two different microorganisms. However, our knowledge of the survival strategies of comammox in complex ecosystems, such as full-scale wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), remains limited. Analyses of genomes and transcriptomes of four comammox organisms from two full-scale WWTPs revealed that comammox were active and showed a surprisingly high metabolic versatility. A gene cluster for the utilization of urea and a gene encoding cyanase suggest that comammox may use diverse organic nitrogen compounds in addition to free ammonia as the substrates. The comammox organisms also encoded the genomic potential for multiple alternative energy metabolisms, including respiration with hydrogen, formate, and sulfite as electron donors. Pathways for the biosynthesis and degradation of polyphosphate, glycogen, and polyhydroxyalkanoates as intracellular storage compounds likely help comammox survive unfavorable conditions and facilitate switches between lifestyles in fluctuating environments. One of the comammox strains acquired from the anaerobic tank encoded and transcribed genes involved in homoacetate fermentation or in the utilization of exogenous acetate, both pathways being unexpected in a nitrifying bacterium. Surprisingly, this strain also encoded a respiratory nitrate reductase which has not yet been found in any other genome and might confer a selective advantage to this strain over other strains in anoxic conditions. The discovery of comammox in the genus changes our perception of nitrification. However, genomes of comammox organisms have not been acquired from full-scale WWTPs, and very little is known about their survival strategies and potential metabolisms in complex wastewater treatment systems. Here, four comammox metagenome-assembled genomes and metatranscriptomic data sets were retrieved from two full-scale WWTPs. Their impressive and-among nitrifiers-unsurpassed ecophysiological versatility could make comammox an interesting target for optimizing nitrification in current and future bioreactor configurations.

  • Single cell analyses reveal contrasting life strategies of the two main nitrifiers in the ocean.

    Kitzinger K, Marchant HK, Bristow LA, Herbold CW, Padilla CC, Kidane AT, Littmann S, Daims H, Pjevac P, Stewart FJ, Wagner M, Kuypers MMM
    2020 - Nat Commun, 1: 767


    Nitrification, the oxidation of ammonia via nitrite to nitrate, is a key process in marine nitrogen (N) cycling. Although oceanic ammonia and nitrite oxidation are balanced, ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) vastly outnumber the main nitrite oxidizers, the bacterial Nitrospinae. The ecophysiological reasons for this discrepancy in abundance are unclear. Here, we compare substrate utilization and growth of Nitrospinae to AOA in the Gulf of Mexico. Based on our results, more than half of the Nitrospinae cellular N-demand is met by the organic-N compounds urea and cyanate, while AOA mainly assimilate ammonium. Nitrospinae have, under in situ conditions, around four-times higher biomass yield and five-times higher growth rates than AOA, despite their ten-fold lower abundance. Our combined results indicate that differences in mortality between Nitrospinae and AOA, rather than thermodynamics, biomass yield and cell size, determine the abundances of these main marine nitrifiers. Furthermore, there is no need to invoke yet undiscovered, abundant nitrite oxidizers to explain nitrification rates in the ocean.

  • Transcriptomic Response of Nitrosomonas europaea Transitioned from Ammonia- to Oxygen-Limited Steady-State Growth.

    Sedlacek CJ, Giguere AT, Dobie MD, Mellbye BL, Ferrell RV, Woebken D, Sayavedra-Soto LA, Bottomley PJ, Daims H, Wagner M, Pjevac P
    2020 - mSystems, 1: e00562-19


    Ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms perform the first step of nitrification, the oxidation of ammonia to nitrite. The bacterium is the best-characterized ammonia oxidizer to date. Exposure to hypoxic conditions has a profound effect on the physiology of , e.g., by inducing nitrifier denitrification, resulting in increased nitric and nitrous oxide production. This metabolic shift is of major significance in agricultural soils, as it contributes to fertilizer loss and global climate change. Previous studies investigating the effect of oxygen limitation on have focused on the transcriptional regulation of genes involved in nitrification and nitrifier denitrification. Here, we combine steady-state cultivation with whole-genome transcriptomics to investigate the overall effect of oxygen limitation on Under oxygen-limited conditions, growth yield was reduced and ammonia-to-nitrite conversion was not stoichiometric, suggesting the production of nitrogenous gases. However, the transcription of the principal nitric oxide reductase (cNOR) did not change significantly during oxygen-limited growth, while the transcription of the nitrite reductase-encoding gene () was significantly lower. In contrast, both heme-copper-containing cytochrome oxidases encoded by were upregulated during oxygen-limited growth. Particularly striking was the significant increase in transcription of the B-type heme-copper oxidase, proposed to function as a nitric oxide reductase (sNOR) in ammonia-oxidizing bacteria. In the context of previous physiological studies, as well as the evolutionary placement of sNOR with regard to other heme-copper oxidases, these results suggest sNOR may function as a high-affinity terminal oxidase in and other ammonia-oxidizing bacteria. Nitrification is a ubiquitous microbially mediated process in the environment and an essential process in engineered systems such as wastewater and drinking water treatment plants. However, nitrification also contributes to fertilizer loss from agricultural environments, increasing the eutrophication of downstream aquatic ecosystems, and produces the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. As ammonia-oxidizing bacteria are the most dominant ammonia-oxidizing microbes in fertilized agricultural soils, understanding their responses to a variety of environmental conditions is essential for curbing the negative environmental effects of nitrification. Notably, oxygen limitation has been reported to significantly increase nitric oxide and nitrous oxide production during nitrification. Here, we investigate the physiology of the best-characterized ammonia-oxidizing bacterium, , growing under oxygen-limited conditions.

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