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Ultrastructure, tactic behaviour and potential for sulfate reduction of a novel multicellular magnetotactic prokaryote from North Sea sediments


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Multicellular magnetotactic prokaryotes (MMPs) represent highly organized, spherical and motile aggregates of 10–40 bacterial cells containing magnetosomes. Although consisting of different cells, each with its own magnetosomes and flagellation, MMPs orient themselves within a magnetic field and exhibit magnetotaxis. So far, MMPs have only been found in several North and South American coastal lagoons and salt marshes. In the present study, a novel type of MMP was discovered in coastal tidal sand flats of the North Sea. High-resolution scanning electron microscopy revealed the presence of bullet-shaped magnetosomes which were aligned in several parallel chains. Within each aggregate, the magnetosome chains of individual cells were oriented in the same direction. Energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) analysis showed that the magnetosomes are composed of iron sulfide. This particular morphology and arrangement of magnetosomes has previously not been reported for other MMPs. 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis revealed a single phylotype which represented a novel phylogenetic lineage with ≥ 4% sequence divergence to all previously described MMP sequences and was related to the dissimilatory sulfate-reducing Desulfosarcina variabilis within the family Desulfobacteraceae of the subphylum Deltaproteobacteria. Fluorescence in situ hybridization with a specific oligonucleotide probe revealed that all MMPs in the tidal flat sediments studied belonged to the novel phylotype. Within each MMP, all bacterial cells showed a hybridization signal, indicating that the aggregates are composed of cells of the same phylotype. Genes for dissimilatory sulfite reductase (dsrAB) and dissimilatory adenosine-5′-phosphate reductase (aprA) could be detected in purified MMP samples, suggesting that MMPs are capable of sulfate reduction. Chemotaxis assays with 41 different test compounds yielded strong responses towards acetate and propionate, whereas other organic acids, alcohols, sugars, sugar alcohols or sulfide did not elicit any response. By means of its coordinated magnetotaxis and chemotaxis, the novel type of MMP is well adapted to the steep chemical gradients which are characteristic for intertidal marine sediments.