Beyond denitrification: the role of microbial diversity in controlling nitrous oxide reduction and soil nitrous oxide emissions

Jun Shan, Robert A. Sanford, Joanne Chee‐Sanford, Sean Khan Ooi, Frank E. Löffler, Konstantinos T. Konstantinidis, Wendy H. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many biotic and abiotic processes contribute to nitrous oxide (N 2O) production in the biosphere, but N 2O consumption in the environment has heretofore been attributed primarily to canonical denitrifying microorganisms. The nosZ genes encoding the N 2O reductase enzyme, NosZ, responsible for N 2O reduction to dinitrogen are now known to include two distinct groups: the well-studied Clade I which denitrifiers typically possess, and the novel Clade II possessed by diverse groups of microorganisms, most of which are non-denitrifiers. Clade II N 2O reducers could play an important, previously unrecognized role in controlling N 2O emissions for several reasons, including: (1) the consumption of N 2O produced by processes other than denitrification, (2) hypothesized non-respiratory functions of NosZ as an electron sink or for N 2O detoxification, (3) possible differing enzyme kinetics of Clade II NosZ compared to Clade I NosZ, and (4) greater nosZ gene abundance for Clade II compared to Clade I in soils of many ecosystems. Despite the potential ecological significance of Clade II NosZ, a census of 800 peer-reviewed original research articles discussing nosZ and published from 2013 to 2019 showed that the percentage of articles evaluating or mentioning Clade II nosZ increased from 5% in 2013 to only 22% in 2019. The census revealed that the slowly spreading awareness of Clade II nosZ may result in part from disciplinary silos, with the percentage of nosZ articles mentioning Clade II nosZ ranging from 0% in Agriculture and Agronomy journals to 32% in Multidisciplinary Sciences journals. In addition, inconsistent nomenclature for Clade I nosZ and Clade II nosZ, with 17 different terminologies used in the literature, may have created confusion about the two distinct groups of N 2O reducers. We provide recommendations to accelerate advances in understanding the role of the diversity of N 2O reducers in regulating soil N 2O emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2669-2683
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • atypical nosZ
  • soil N2O emissions
  • nosZ‐II
  • nosZ Clade II
  • nosZ
  • non‐denitrifier
  • nitrous oxide
  • N2O reduction
  • denitrification
  • Clade II nosZ
  • N O reduction
  • non-denitrifier
  • soil N O emissions
  • nos Z
  • nosZ-II

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Beyond denitrification: the role of microbial diversity in controlling nitrous oxide reduction and soil nitrous oxide emissions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this