Are bacteria more like plants or animals? Growth rate and resource dependence of bacterial C : N : P stoichiometry
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- 1We examined the relative importance of resource composition (carbon : phosphorus molar ratios which varied between 9 and 933) and growth rate (0·5–1·5 h−1) to biomass carbon : nitrogen : phosphorus stoichiometry and nucleic acid content in Escherichia coli grown in chemostats, and in other heterotrophic prokaryotes using published literature.
- 2Escherichia coli RNA content and the contribution of RNA-P to total cellular P increased with increasing growth rate at all supply C : P ratios. Growth rate had a much stronger effect on biomass C : P than did supply C : P, and increased RNA content resulted in low biomass C : P and N : P ratios.
- 3However, we observed only twofold variations in biomass C : P and N : P ratios in the experiments, despite a difference of two orders of magnitude in C : P and N : P supply. The response of biomass C : P and N : P ratios to alteration of the supply C : P and N : P ratios revealed that E. coli was strongly homeostatic in its elemental composition.
- 4This result, and a literature survey, suggest that each heterotrophic bacterial strain regulates its elemental composition homeostatically within a relatively narrow range of characteristic biomass C : P and N : P ratios.
- 5Thus shifts in the dominance of different bacterial strains in the environment are probably responsible for the large variation in bacterial biomass C : P, as has been suggested for crustacean zooplankton. These findings indicate that bacteria are more like animals than plants in terms of biomass C : P and N : P homeostasis.