The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology 17(2) , 309-314 ( 2022)
Ammonia-oxidising archaea (AOA) are a ubiquitous component of microbial communities and dominate the first stage of nitrification in some soils. While we are beginning to understand soil virus dynamics, we have no knowledge of the composition or activity of those infecting nitrifiers or their potential to influence processes. This study aimed to characterise viruses having infected autotrophic AOA in two nitrifying soils of contrasting pH by following transfer of assimilated CO2-derived 13C from host to virus via DNA stable-isotope probing and metagenomic analysis. Incorporation of 13C into low GC mol% AOA and virus genomes increased DNA buoyant density in CsCl gradients but resulted in co-migration with dominant non-enriched high GC mol% genomes, reducing sequencing depth and contig assembly. We therefore developed a hybrid approach where AOA and virus genomes were assembled from low buoyant density DNA with subsequent mapping of 13C isotopically enriched high buoyant density DNA reads to identify activity of AOA. Metagenome-assembled genomes were different between the two soils and represented a broad diversity of active populations. Sixty-four AOA-infecting viral operational taxonomic units (vOTUs) were identified with no clear relatedness to previously characterised prokaryote viruses. These vOTUs were also distinct between soils, with 42% enriched in 13C derived from hosts. The majority were predicted as capable of lysogeny and auxiliary metabolic genes included an AOA-specific multicopper oxidase suggesting infection may augment copper uptake essential for central metabolic functioning. These findings indicate virus infection of AOA may be a frequent process during nitrification with potential to influence host physiology and activity.