Nitrogenase diversity and activity in the gastrointestinal tract of the wood-eating catfish Panaque nigrolineatus
by Ryan McDonald, Fan Zhang, Joy E M Watts and Harold J Schreier
The Amazonian catfish, Panaque nigrolineatus, consume large amounts of wood in their diets. The nitrogen-fixing community within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of these catfish was found to include nifH phylotypes that are closely related to Clostridium sp., Alpha and Gammaproteobacteria, and sequences associated with GI tracts of lower termites. Fish fed a diet of sterilized palm wood were found to contain nifH messenger RNA within their GI tracts, displaying high sequence similarity to the nitrogen-fixing Bradyrhizobium group. Nitrogenase activity, measured by acetylene reduction assays, could be detected in freshly dissected GI tract material and also from anaerobic enrichment cultures propagated in nitrogen-free enrichment media; nifH sequences retrieved from these cultures were dominated by Klebsiella- and Clostridium-like sequences. Microscopic examination using catalyzed reporter deposition-enhanced immunofluorescence revealed high densities of nitrogenase-containing cells colonizing the woody digesta within the GI tract, as well as cells residing within the intestinal mucous layer. Our findings suggest that the P. nigrolineatus GI tract provides a suitable environment for nitrogen fixation that may facilitate production of reduced nitrogen by the resident microbial population under nitrogen limiting conditions. Whether this community is providing reduced nitrogen to the host in an active or passive manner and whether it is present in a permanent or transient relationship remains to be determined. The intake of a cellulose rich diet and the presence of a suitable environment for nitrogen fixation suggest that the GI tract microbial community may allow a unique trophic niche for P. nigrolineatus among fish.