Cyclic Conversions in the Nitrogen Cycle

Robbert Kleerebezem*, Sebastian Lücker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
11 Downloads (Pure)


The cyclic nature of specific conversions in the nitrogen cycle imposes strict limitations to the conversions observed in nature and explains for example why anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) bacteria can only use nitrite – and not nitrate – as electron acceptor in catabolism, and why nitrite is required as additional electron donor for inorganic carbon fixation in anabolism. Furthermore, the biochemistry involved in nitrite-dependent anaerobic methane oxidation excludes the feasibility of using nitrate as electron acceptor. Based on the cyclic nature of these nitrogen conversions, we propose two scenarios that may explain the ecological role of recently discovered complete ammonia-oxidizing (comammox) Nitrospira spp., some of which were initially found in a strongly oxygen limited environment: (i) comammox Nitrospira spp. may actually catalyze an anammox-like metabolism using a biochemistry similar to intra-oxic nitrite-dependent methane oxidation, or (ii) scavenge all available oxygen for ammonia activation and use nitrate as terminal electron acceptor. Both scenarios require the presence of the biochemical machinery for ammonia oxidation to nitrate, potentially explaining a specific ecological niche for the occurrence of comammox bacteria in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Article number622504
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • anammox
  • denitrification
  • nitrification
  • stoichiometry
  • thermodynamics


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