The nitrogen cycle in cryoconites: Naturally occurring nitrification-denitrification granules on a glacier

Takahiro Segawa, Satoshi Ishii, Nobuhito Ohte, Ayumi Akiyoshi, Akinori Yamada, Fumito Maruyama, Zhongqin Li, Yuichi Hongoh, Nozomu Takeuchi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Summary: Cryoconites are microbial aggregates commonly found on glacier surfaces where they tend to take spherical, granular forms. While it has been postulated that the microbes in cryoconite granules play an important role in glacier ecosystems, information on their community structure is still limited, and their functions remain unclear. Here, we present evidence for the occurrence of nitrogen cycling in cryoconite granules on a glacier in Central Asia. We detected marker genes for nitrogen fixation, nitrification and denitrification in cryoconite granules by digital polymerase chain reaction (PCR), while digital reverse transcription PCR analysis revealed that only marker genes for nitrification and denitrification were abundantly transcribed. Analysis of isotope ratios also indicated the occurrence of nitrification; nitrate in the meltwater on the glacier surface was of biological origin, while nitrate in the snow was of atmospheric origin. The predominant nitrifiers on this glacier belonged to the order Nitrosomonadales, as suggested by amoA sequences and 16S ribosomal RNA pyrosequencing analysis. Our results suggest that the intense carbon and nitrogen cycles by nitrifiers, denitrifiers and cyanobacteria support abundant and active microbes on the Asian glacier.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3250-3262
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

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© 2014 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


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