Molybdenum limitation of microbial nitrogen assimilation in aquatic ecosystems and pure cultures

Jennifer B. Glass, Richard P. Axler, Sudeep Chandra, Charles R. Goldman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Molybdenum (Mo) is an essential micronutrient for biological assimilation of nitrogen gas and nitrate because it is present in the cofactors of nitrogenase and nitrate reductase enzymes. Although Mo is the most abundant transition metal in seawater (107 nM), it is present in low concentrations in most freshwaters, typically <20 nM. In 1960, it was discovered that primary productivity was limited by Mo scarcity (2-4 nM) in Castle Lake, a small, meso-oligotrophic lake in northern California. Follow up studies demonstrated that Mo also limited primary productivity in lakes in New Zealand, Alaska, and the Sierra Nevada. Research in the 1970s and 1980s showed that Mo limited primary productivity and nitrate uptake in Castle Lake only during periods of the growing season when nitrate concentrations were relatively high because ammonium assimilation does not require Mo. In the years since, research has shifted to investigate whether Mo limitation also occurs in marine and soil environments. Here we review studies of Mo limitation of nitrogen assimilation in natural microbial communities and pure cultures. We also summarize new data showing that the simultaneous addition of Mo and nitrate causes increased activity of proteins involved in nitrogen assimilation in the hypolimnion of Castle Lake when ammonium is scarce. Furthermore, we suggest that meter-scale Mo and oxygen depth profiles from Castle Lake are consistent with the hypothesis that nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria in freshwater periphyton communities have higher Mo requirements than other microbial communities. Finally, we present topics for future research related to Mo bioavailability through time and with changing oxidation state.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberSEP
StatePublished - 2012


  • Limnology
  • Microbes
  • Molybdenum
  • Nitrate reductase
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Nutrient
  • Trace elements


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