Bidirectional C and N transfer and a potential role for sulfur in an epiphytic diazotrophic mutualism
Stuart RK, Pederson ERA, Weyman PD, Weber PK, Rassmussen U, Dupont CL
In nitrogen-limited boreal forests, associations between feathermoss and diazotrophic cyanobacteria control nitrogen inputs and thus carbon cycling, but little is known about the molecular regulators required for initiation and maintenance of these associations. Specifically, a benefit to the cyanobacteria is not known, challenging whether the association is a nutritional mutualism. Targeted mutagenesis of the cyanobacterial alkane sulfonate monooxygenase results in an inability to colonize feathermosses by the cyanobacterium Nostoc punctiforme, suggesting a role for organic sulfur in communication or nutrition. Isotope probing paired with high-resolution imaging mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) demonstrated bidirectional elemental transfer between partners, with carbon and sulfur both being transferred to the cyanobacteria, and nitrogen transferred to the moss. These results support the hypothesis that moss and cyanobacteria enter a mutualistic exosymbiosis with substantial bidirectional material exchange of carbon and nitrogen and potential signaling through sulfur compounds.