LINKING ECOLOGY, ENZYMES AND ECOSYSTEMS IN THE GLOBAL NITROGEN CYCLE (UNITY)

Molecular tools have been incredibly useful in deciphering the diversity and abundance of ammonia oxidising microbes in the environment. However, there is still an outstanding challenge that environmental nitrogen turnover rates rarely correlate with these molecular data. There are also major gaps in our understanding of the enzymes and physiology of nitrifiers, which makes it more difficult to have a complete picture of nitrogen cycling in the environment. It has not been possible to address these knowledge gaps until the relatively recent cultivation of novel ammonia oxidisers. The aim of this project is to bring together enzymology, physiology and ecology of ammonia oxidation to understand, in fine detail, how microbial diversity and abundance translate to process rates in the environment.

Specifically we want to address the following questions:

  • Who are the key microbial players driving nitrification in soil?

  • How does the enzyme content in the microbial cell change in response to the environment and how does this affect the capacity for nitrogen turnover?

  • How do physiological traits influence competition between ammonia oxidising microbes in a complex community?

  • Can we predict environmental nitrogen flux from DNA sequence data?

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