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Bacterial Chitin Hydrolysis in Two Lakes with Contrasting Trophic Statuses

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Koellner Krista E., Carstens Doerte, Keller Esther, Vazquez Francisco, Schubert Carsten J., Zeyer Josef, Buergmann Helmut,
Project Degradation and transformation of lacustrine organic nitrogen compounds: microbiology and biogeochemistry
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Volume (Issue) 78(3)
Page(s) 695 - 704
DOI 10.1128/aem.06330-11


Chitin, which is a biopolymer of the amino sugar glucosamine (GlcN), is highly abundant in aquatic ecosystems, and its degradation is assigned a key role in the recycling of carbon and nitrogen. In order to study the significance of chitin decomposition in two temperate freshwater lakes with contrasting trophic and redox conditions, we measured the turnover rate of the chitin analog methylumbelliferyl-N,N=-diacetylchitobioside (MUF-DC) and the presence of chitinase (chiA) genes in zooplankton, water, and sediment samples. In contrast to the eutrophic and partially anoxic lake, chiA gene fragments were detectable throughout the oligotrophic water column and chiA copy numbers per ml of water were up to 15 times higher than in the eutrophic waters. For both lakes, the highest chiA abundance was found in the euphotic zone—the main habitat of zooplankton, but also the site of production of easily degradable algal chitin. The bulk of chitinase activity was measured in zooplankton samples and the sediments, where recalcitrant chitin is deposited. Both, chiA abundance and chitinase activity correlated well with organic carbon, nitrogen, and concentrations of particulate GlcN. Our findings show that chitin, although its overall contribution to the total organic carbon is small (0.01 to 0.1%), constitutes an important microbial growth substrate in these temperate freshwater lakes, particularly where other easily degradable carbon sources are scarce.