Microbial activities in soils, such as (incomplete) denitrification, represent major sources of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas. The key enzyme for mitigating N2O emissions is NosZ, which catalyzes N2O reduction to N2. We recently described 'atypical' functional NosZ proteins encoded by both denitrifiers and nondenitrifiers, which were missed in previous environmental surveys (R. A. Sanford et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 109:19709 -19714, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1211238109). Here, we analyzed the abundance and diversity of both nosZ types in whole-genome shotgun metagenomes from sandy and silty loam agricultural soils that typify the U.S. Midwest corn belt. First, different search algorithms and parameters for detecting nosZ metagenomic reads were evaluated based on in silico-generated (mock) metagenomes. Using the derived cutoffs, 71 distinct alleles (95% amino acid identity level) encoding typical or atypical NosZ proteins were detected in both soil types. Remarkably, more than 70% of the total nosZ reads in both soils were classified as atypical, emphasizing that prior surveys underestimated nosZ abundance. Approximately 15% of the total nosZ reads were taxonomically related to Anaeromyxobacter, which was the most abundant genus encoding atypical NosZ-type proteins in both soil types. Further analyses revealed that atypical nosZ genes outnumbered typical nosZ genes in most publicly available soil metagenomes, underscoring their potential role in mediating N2O consumption in soils. Therefore, this study provides a bioinformatics strategy to reliably detect target genes in complex short-read metagenomes and suggests that the analysis of both typical and atypical nosZ sequences is required to understand and predict N2O flux in soils.
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