mSystems 7(1) , e01270-21 ( 2022)
Ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) are key for the transformation of ammonia to oxidized forms of nitrogen in aquatic environments around the globe, including nutrient-rich coastal and estuarine waters such as San Francisco Bay (SFB). Using metagenomics and 16S rRNA gene amplicon libraries, we found that AOA are more abundant than ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), except in the freshwater stations in SFB. In South SFB, we observed recurrent AOA blooms of “Candidatus Nitrosomarinus catalina” SPOT01-like organisms, which account for over 20% of 16S rRNA gene amplicons in both surface and bottom waters and co-occur with weeks of high nitrite concentrations (>10 μM) in the oxic water column. We observed pronounced nitrite peaks occurring in the autumn for 7 of the last 9 years (2012 to 2020), suggesting that seasonal AOA blooms are common in South SFB. We recovered two high-quality AOA metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs), including a Nitrosomarinus-like genome from the South SFB bloom and another Nitrosopumilus genome originating from Suisun Bay in North SFB. Both MAGs cluster with genomes from other estuarine/coastal sites. Analysis of Nitrosomarinus-like genomes show that they are streamlined, with low GC content and high coding density, and harbor urease genes. Our findings support the unique niche of Nitrosomarinus-like organisms which dominate coastal/estuarine waters and provide insights into recurring AOA blooms in SFB. IMPORTANCE Ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) carry out key transformations of ammonia in estuarine systems such as San Francisco Bay (SFB)-the largest estuary on the west coast of North America-and play a significant role in both local and global nitrogen cycling. Using metagenomics and 16S rRNA gene amplicon libraries, we document a massive, recurrent AOA bloom in South SFB that co-occurs with months of high nitrite concentrations in the oxic water column. Our study is the first to generate metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) from SFB, and through this process we recovered two high-quality AOA MAGs, one of which originated from bloom samples. These AOA MAGs yield new insight into the Nitrosopumilus and Nitrosomarinus-like lineages and their potential niches in coastal and estuarine systems. Nitrosomarinus-like AOA are abundant in coastal regions around the globe, and we highlight the common occurrence of urease genes, low GC content, and range of salinity tolerances within this lineage.