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Cell & Molecular Biology


Nitrogen (N) cycling microbial communities in marine sediments are extremely diverse, and it is unknown whether this diversity reflects extensive functional redundancy. Sedimentary denitrifiers remove significant amounts of N from the coastal ocean and diazotrophs are typically regarded as inconsequential. Recently, N fixation has been shown to be a potentially important source of N in estuarine and continental shelf sediments. Analysis of expressed genes for nitrite reductase (nirS) and a nitrogenase subunit (nifH) was used to identify the likely active denitrifiers and nitrogen fixers in surface sediments from different seasons in Narragansett Bay (Rhode Island, USA). The overall diversity of diazotrophs expressing nifH decreased along the estuarine gradient from the estuarine head to an offshore continental shelf site. Two groups of sequences related to anaerobic sulphur/iron reducers and sulphate reducers dominated libraries of expressed nifH genes. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) data shows the highest abundance of both groups at a mid bay site, and the highest nifH expression at the head of the estuary, regardless of season. Several potential environmental factors, including water temperature, oxygen concentration and metal contamination, may influence the abundance and nifH expression of these two bacterial groups.

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