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Discovery of symbiotic nitrogen fixation and chemoautotrophy in cold-water corals

Journal article
Authors Jack J. Middelburg
Christina E. Mueller
Bart Veuger
Ann I. Larsson
Armin Form
Dick van Oevelen
Published in Scientific Reports
Volume 5
Pages artikel nr 17962
ISSN 2045-2322
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of marine sciences
Pages artikel nr 17962
Language en
Subject categories Marine ecology


Cold-water corals (CWC) are widely distributed around the world forming extensive reefs at par with tropical coral reefs. They are hotspots of biodiversity and organic matter processing in the world’s deep oceans. Living in the dark they lack photosynthetic symbionts and are therefore considered to depend entirely on the limited flux of organic resources from the surface ocean. While symbiotic relations in tropical corals are known to be key to their survival in oligotrophic conditions, the full metabolic capacity of CWC has yet to be revealed. Here we report isotope tracer evidence for efficient nitrogen recycling, including nitrogen assimilation, regeneration, nitrification and denitrification. Moreover, we also discovered chemoautotrophy and nitrogen fixation in CWC and transfer of fixed nitrogen and inorganic carbon into bulk coral tissue and tissue compounds (fatty acids and amino acids). This unrecognized yet versatile metabolic machinery of CWC conserves precious limiting resources and provides access to new nitrogen and organic carbon resources that may be essential for CWC to survive in the resource-depleted dark ocean.

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