In silico determination of nitrogen metabolism in microbes from extreme conditions using metagenomics

Lulit Tilahun, Asfawossen Asrat, Gary M. Wessel, Addis Simachew

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The acid ponds of the Danakil Depression in northern Ethiopia are polyextreme environments that exceed the normal physicochemical limits of pH, salinity, ion content, and temperature. We tested for the occurrence of DNA-based life in this environment using Metagenomic Shotgun DNA sequencing approaches. The obtained sequences were examined by the bioinformatic tools MetaSpades, DIAMOND and MEGAN 6-CE, and we were able to bin more than 90% of the metagenomics contigs of Dallol and Black Water to the Bacteria domain, and to the Proteobacteria phylum. Predictions of gene function based on SEED disclosed the presence of different nutrient cycles in the acid ponds. For this study, we focused on partial or completely sequenced genes involved in nitrogen metabolism. The KEGG nitrogen metabolism pathway mapping results for both acid ponds showed that all the predicted genes are involved directly or indirectly in the assimilation of ammonia and no dissimilation or nitrification process was identified. Furthermore, the deduced nitrogen fixation in the two acid ponds based on SEED classification indicated the presence of different sets of nitrogen fixing (nif) genes for biosynthesis and maturation of nitrogenase. Based on the in silico analysis, the predicted proteins involved in nitrogen fixation, especially the cysteine desulfurase and [4Fe-4S] ferredoxin, from both acid ponds are unique with less than 80% sequence similarity to the next closest protein sequence. Considering the extremity of the environmental conditions of the two acid ponds in the Danakil depression, this metagenomics dataset can add to the study of unique gene functions in nitrogen metabolism that enable thriving biocommunities in hypersaline and highly acidic conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2521-2540
Number of pages20
JournalArchives of Microbiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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