Denitrification likely catalyzed by endobionts in an allogromiid foraminifer. Academic Article uri icon


  • Nitrogen can be a limiting macronutrient for carbon uptake by the marine biosphere. The process of denitrification (conversion of nitrate to gaseous compounds, including N(2) (nitrogen gas)) removes bioavailable nitrogen, particularly in marine sediments, making it a key factor in the marine nitrogen budget. Benthic foraminifera reportedly perform complete denitrification, a process previously considered nearly exclusively performed by bacteria and archaea. If the ability to denitrify is widespread among these diverse and abundant protists, a paradigm shift is required for biogeochemistry and marine microbial ecology. However, to date, the mechanisms of foraminiferal denitrification are unclear, and it is possible that the ability to perform complete denitrification is because of the symbiont metabolism in some foraminiferal species. Using sequence analysis and GeneFISH, we show that for a symbiont-bearing foraminifer, the potential for denitrification resides in the endobionts. Results also identify the endobionts as denitrifying pseudomonads and show that the allogromiid accumulates nitrate intracellularly, presumably for use in denitrification. Endobionts have been observed within many foraminiferal species, and in the case of associations with denitrifying bacteria, may provide fitness for survival in anoxic conditions. These associations may have been a driving force for early foraminiferal diversification, which is thought to have occurred in the Neoproterozoic era when anoxia was widespread.

publication date

  • May 2012