To what extent multi-omic techniques could reflect in situ microbial process rates remains unclear, especially for highly diverse habitats like soils. Here, we performed microcosm incubations using sandy soil from an agricultural site in Midwest USA. Microcosms amended with isotopically labeled ammonium and urea to simulate a fertilization event showed nitrification (up to 4.1 ± 0.87 µg N-NO3 − g−1 dry soil d−1) and accumulation of N2O after 192 hours of incubation. Nitrification activity (NH4 + → NH2OH → NO → NO2 - → NO3 −) was accompanied by a 6-fold increase in relative expression of the 16S rRNA gene (RNA/DNA) between 10 and 192 hours of incubation for ammonia-oxidizing bacteria Nitrosomonas and Nitrosospira, unlike archaea and comammox bacteria, which showed stable gene expression. A strong relationship between nitrification activity and betaproteobacterial ammonia monooxygenase and nitrite oxidoreductase transcript abundances revealed that mRNA quantitatively reflected measured activity and was generally more sensitive than DNA under these conditions. Although peptides related to housekeeping proteins from nitrite-oxidizing microorganisms were detected, their abundance was not significantly correlated with activity, revealing that meta-proteomics provided only a qualitative assessment of activity. Altogether, these findings underscore the strengths and limitations of multi-omic approaches for assessing diverse microbial communities in soils and provide new insights into nitrification.
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