Front Microbiol 7 , 606 (Apr 29 2016)
Relative abundance profiles of bacterial populations measured by sequencing DNA or RNA of marker genes can widely differ. These differences, made apparent when calculating ribosomal RNA:DNA ratios, have been interpreted as variable activities of bacterial populations. However, inconsistent correlations between ribosomal RNA:DNA ratios and metabolic activity or growth rates have led to a more conservative interpretation of this metric as the cellular protein synthesis potential (PSP). Little is known, particularly in freshwater systems, about how PSP varies for specific taxa across temporal and spatial environmental gradients and how conserved PSP is across bacterial phylogeny. Here, we generated 16S rRNA gene sequencing data using simultaneously extracted DNA and RNA from fractionated (free-living and particulate) water samples taken seasonally along a eutrophic freshwater estuary to oligotrophic pelagic transect in Lake Michigan. In contrast to previous reports, we observed frequent clustering of DNA and RNA data from the same sample. Analysis of the overlap in taxa detected at the RNA and DNA level indicated that microbial dormancy may be more common in the estuary, the particulate fraction, and during the stratified period. Across spatiotemporal gradients, PSP was often conserved at the phylum and class levels. PSPs for specific taxa were more similar across habitats in spring than in summer and fall. This was most notable for PSPs of the same taxa when located in the free-living or particulate fractions, but also when contrasting surface to deep, and estuary to Lake Michigan communities. Our results show that community composition assessed by RNA and DNA measurements are more similar than previously assumed in freshwater systems. However, the similarity between RNA and DNA measurements and taxa-specific PSPs that drive community-level similarities are conditional on spatiotemporal factors.