Microbial rRNA synthesis and growth compared through quantitative stable isotope probing with H2 18O

Katerina Papp, Bruce A. Hungate, Egbert Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Growing bacteria have a high concentration of ribosomes to ensure sufficient protein synthesis, which is necessary for genome replication and cellular division. To elucidate whether metabolic activity of soil microorganisms is coupled with growth, we investigated the relationship between rRNA and DNA synthesis in a soil bacterial community using quantitative stable isotope probing (qSIP) with H2 18O. Most soil bacterial taxa were metabolically active and grew, and there was no significant difference between the isotopic composition of DNA and RNA extracted from soil incubated with H2 18O. The positive correlation between 18O content of DNA and rRNA of taxa, with a slope statistically indistinguishable from 1 (slope = 0.96; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.90 to 1.02), indicated that few taxa made new rRNA without synthesizing new DNA. There was no correlation between rRNA-to-DNA ratios obtained from sequencing libraries and the atom percent excess (APE) 18O values of DNA or rRNA, suggesting that the ratio of rRNA to DNA is a poor indicator of microbial growth or rRNA synthesis. Our results support the notion that metabolic activity is strongly coupled to cellular division and suggest that nondividing taxa do not dominate soil metabolic activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere02441-17
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • APE O
  • Atom percent excess
  • Atom percent excess O values of nucleic acids
  • DNA
  • Density shift
  • Environmental microbiology
  • Microbial activity
  • Microbial growth
  • Quantitative stable isotope probing
  • RRNA-to-DNA ratio
  • Relative sequence abundance
  • Soil
  • Soil microbiology
  • qSIP
  • rRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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