Uncoupling of chitinase activity and uptake of hydrolysis products in freshwater bacterioplankton
Limnol. Oceanogr., 56(4), 2011, 1179-1188 | DOI: 10.4319/lo.2011.56.4.1179
ABSTRACT: We investigated to what extent chitinolytic bacteria subsidize bacterial populations that do not produce chitinolytic enzymes but still use the products of chitin hydrolysis. Applying single-cell techniques to untreated and chitin-enriched lake water, we show that the number of planktonic cells taking up chitin hydrolysis products by far exceeds the number of cells expressing chitinases. Flavobacteria, Actinobacteria, and specifically members of the abundant and ubiquitous freshwater Ac1 cluster of the Actinobacteria, increased in abundance and were enriched in response to the chitin amendment. Flavobacteria were frequently observed in dense clusters on chitin particles, suggesting that they are actively involved in the hydrolysis and solubilization of chitin. In contrast, Actinobacteria were exclusively planktonic. We propose that planktonic Actinobacteria contain commensals specialized in the uptake of small hydrolysis products without expressing or possibly even possessing the machinery for chitin hydrolysis. More research is needed to assess the importance of such “cheater” substrate acquisition strategies in the turnover and degradation of polymeric organic matter in aquatic ecosystems.