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Processes in Microbial Ecology$
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David L. Kirchman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199586936

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586936.001.0001

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Elements, biochemicals, and structures of microbes

Elements, biochemicals, and structures of microbes

(p.19) Chapter 2 Elements, biochemicals, and structures of microbes
Processes in Microbial Ecology

David L. Kirchman

Oxford University Press

Microbiologists know the basic biochemical make up of microbes, such as relative amounts of protein, RNA, and DNA in cells, while ecologists and biogeochemists use elemental ratios, most notably, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N), to explore biogeochemical processes and to connect up the carbon cycle with the cycle of other elements. Microbial ecologists make use of both types of data and approaches. This chapter combines both and reviews all things, from elements to macromolecular structures, that make up bacteria and other microbes. The most commonly used elemental ratio was discovered by Alfred Redfield, who concluded that microbes have a huge impact on the chemistry of the oceans because of the similarity in nitrogen to phosphorus ratios for organisms and nitrate to phosphate ratios in the deep oceans. Although statistically different, soil microbes have remarkably similar C:N ratios as the ratio of aquatic microbes. The chapter moves on to discuss the macromolecular composition of bacteria and other microbes. This composition gives insights into the growth state of microbes in nature. Geochemists use specific compounds, ‘biomarkers’, to trace sources of organic material in ecosystems. The last section reviews extracellular polymers, pili, and flagella, which serve a variety of functions, from propelling microbes around to keeping them stuck in one place.

Keywords:   Redfield ratios, ecological stoichiometry, biomarkers, muramic acid, lipopolysaccharides, peptidoglycan, RNA content

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