Warming alters expressions of microbial functional genes important to ecosystem functioning

Kai Xue, Jianping Xie, Aifen Zhou, Feifei Liu, Dejun Li, Liyou Wu, Ye Deng, Zhili He, Joy D. Van Nostrand, Yiqi Luo, Jizhong Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Soil microbial communities play critical roles in ecosystem functioning and are likely altered by climate warming. However, so far, little is known about effects of warming on microbial functional gene expressions. Here, we applied functional gene array (GeoChip 3.0) to analyze cDNA reversely transcribed from total RNA to assess expressed functional genes in active soil microbial communities after nine years of experimental warming in a tallgrass prairie. Our results showed that warming significantly altered the community wide gene expressions. Specifically, expressed genes for degrading more recalcitrant carbon were stimulated by warming, likely linked to the plant community shift toward more C4 species under warming and to decrease the long-term soil carbon stability. In addition, warming changed expressed genes in labile C degradation and N cycling in different directions (increase and decrease), possibly reflecting the dynamics of labile C and available N pools during sampling. However, the average abundances of expressed genes in phosphorus and sulfur cycling were all increased by warming, implying a stable trend of accelerated P and S processes which might be a mechanism to sustain higher plant growth. Furthermore, the expressed gene composition was closely related to both dynamic (e.g., soil moisture) and stable environmental attributes (e.g., C4 leaf C or N content), indicating that RNA analyses could also capture certain stable trends in the long-term treatment. Overall, this study revealed the importance of elucidating functional gene expressions of soil microbial community in enhancing our understanding of ecosystem responses to warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number668
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Issue numberMAY
StatePublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Functional gene expression
  • GeoChip
  • Global climate change
  • RNA
  • Warming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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