Bacteria belonging to the phylum Verrucomicrobia are far more ubiquitous and abundant in soil than previous work would suggest. In many soils, a relatively small number of verrucomicrobial phylotypes or ‘species’ can represent more than 25% of the bacterial cells in soil. Since these phylotypes are not closely related to any known cultured isolates or any strains for which we have whole-genome data, we have limited information on what these bacteria are actually doing in soil, their metabolic capabilities, or the niches they inhabit. We have recently assembled the genomes of these dominant Verrucomicrobia from soil metagenomic data and found that these taxa appear to be oligotrophs that specialize in methanol oxidation. This is important because we have found in previous work that methanol likely represents an important source of labile organic carbon to soil microbes in many ecosystems with methanol fluxes likely representing an important, but under-studied, mechanism by which organic carbon is transferred from surface litter layers to mineral soils. Ongoing work has focused on using high-throughput cultivation methods to study soil Verrucomicrobia in vitro and better understand their controls on soil carbon dynamics. Together this work demonstrates how we can leverage recent methodological advances in metagenomics, high-throughput cultivation, and soil trace gas analyses to understand the biogeochemical relevance of an abundant, but mysterious, group of soil microorganisms.
Fierer, N (2015): Verrucomicrobia and their role in soil methanol consumption. B21J-02 Microbial Controls of Biogeochemical Cycling I, presented at 2015 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 14-18 Dec..