The central carbon (C) metabolic network harvests energy to power the cell and feed biosynthesis for growth. In pure cultures, bacteria use some but not all of the network's major pathways, such as glycolysis and pentose phosphate and Entner-Doudoroff pathways. However, how these pathways are used in microorganisms in intact soil communities is unknown. Here, we analyzed the incorporation of 13C from glucose isotopomers into phospholipid fatty acids. We showed that groups of Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria in an intact agricultural soil used different pathways to metabolize glucose. They also differed in C use efficiency (CUE), the efficiency with which a substrate is used for biosynthesis. Our results provide experimental evidence for diversity among microbes in the organization of their central carbon metabolic network and CUE under in situ conditions. These results have important implications for our understanding of how community composition affects soil C cycling and organic matter formation.
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