Agata Pijl

Agata Pijl

Laboratory Assistant
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Visiting Address

Droevendaalsesteeg 10
6708 PB Wageningen

+31 (0) 317 47 34 00

The Netherlands


Molecular technician working for the Microbial and Animal Ecology department.


Ir. Agata Pijl graduated as a biotechnology technician in 1992 at the Hogeschool Rotterdam e.o. After this she studied biology at WageningenUR and graduated in 1995. She started working at the NIOO in 2000 for the Department of Microbial Ecology and also in 2003 for the Department of Animal Ecology. Here work now involves all kind of moleculair techniques in the projects of Eiko Kuramae and Marcel Visser.



Peer-reviewed publications

  • FEMS Microbiology Ecology

    Rhizosphere microbiome response to host genetic variability

    Cristina Rotoni, Marcio Fernandes Alves Leite, Agata Pijl, Eiko Kuramae
    Rhizosphere microbial community composition is strongly influenced by plant species and cultivar. However, our understanding of the impact of plant cultivar genetic variability on microbial assembly composition remains limited. Here, we took advantage of vegetatively propagated chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum L.) as a plant model and induced roots in five commercial cultivars: Barolo, Chic, Chic 45, Chic Cream and Haydar. We observed strong rhizosphere selection for the bacterial community but weaker selection for the fungal community. The genetic distance between cultivars explained 42.83% of the total dissimilarity between the bacteria selected by the different cultivars. By contrast, rhizosphere fungal selection was not significantly linked to plant genetic dissimilarity. Each chrysanthemum cultivar selected unique bacterial and fungal genera in the rhizosphere. We also observed a trade-off in the rhizosphere selection of bacteria and fungi in which the cultivar with the strongest selection of fungal communities showed the weakest bacterial selection. Finally, bacterial and fungal family taxonomic groups consistently selected by all cultivars were identified (bacteria Chitinophagaceae, Beijerinckiaceae and Acidobacteriaceae, and fungi Pseudeurotiaceae and Chrysozymaceae). Taken together, our findings suggest that chrysanthemum cultivars select distinct rhizosphere microbiomes and share a common core of microbes partially explained by the genetic dissimilarity between cultivars.
  • Microorganisms

    Responses of Acidobacteria Granulicella sp. WH15 to high carbon revealed by integrated omics analyses

    Ohana Costa, Marcelo Zerillo, D. Zühlke, Anna Kielak, Agata Pijl, K. Riedel, Eiko Kuramae
    The phylum Acidobacteria is widely distributed in soils, but few representatives have been cultured. In general, Acidobacteria are oligotrophs and exhibit slow growth under laboratory conditions. We sequenced the genome of Granulicella sp. WH15, a strain obtained from decaying wood, and determined the bacterial transcriptome and proteome under growth in poor medium with a low or high concentration of sugar. We detected the presence of 217 carbohydrate-associated enzymes in the genome of strain WH15. Integrated analysis of the transcriptomic and proteomic profiles showed that high sugar triggered a stress response. As part of this response, transcripts related to cell wall stress, such as sigma factor σW and toxin–antitoxin (TA) systems, were upregulated, as were several proteins involved in detoxification and repair, including MdtA and OprM. KEGG metabolic pathway analysis indicated the repression of carbon metabolism (especially the pentose phosphate pathway) and the reduction of protein synthesis, carbohydrate metabolism, and cell division, suggesting the arrest of cell activity and growth. In summary, the stress response of Granulicella sp. WH15 induced by the presence of a high sugar concentration in the medium resulted in the intensification of secretion functions to eliminate toxic compounds and the reallocation of resources to cell maintenance instead of growth.
  • Microbiome

    Cultivation-independent and cultivation-dependent metagenomes reveal genetic and enzymatic potential of microbial community involved in the degradation of a complex microbial polymer

    Ohana Costa, Mattias De Hollander, Agata Pijl, Binbin Liu, Eiko Kuramae
    Cultivation-independent methods, including metagenomics, are tools for the exploration and discovery of biotechnological compounds produced by microbes in natural environments. Glycoside hydrolases (GHs) enzymes are extremely desired and important in the industry of production for goods and biofuel and removal of problematic biofilms and exopolysaccharide (EPS). Biofilms and EPS are complex, requiring a wide range of enzymes for a complete degradation. The aim of this study was to identify potential GH microbial producers and GH genes with biotechnological potential, using EPS-complex structure (WH15EPS) of Acidobacteria Granulicella sp. strain WH15 as an enrichment factor, in cultivation-independent and cultivation-dependent methods. We performed stable isotope probing (SIP) combined with metagenomics on topsoil litter amended with WH15EPS and coupled solid culture-EPS amended medium with metagenomics.

    SIP metagenome analysis of the soil litter demonstrated that phyla Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Acidobacteria, and Planctomycetes were the most abundant in WH15EPS amended and unamended treatments. The enrichment cultures in solid culture medium coupled to metagenomics demonstrated an enrichment in Proteobacteria, and the metagenome assembly of this enrichment cultures resulted in 4 metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) of microbes with low identity (42–86%) to known microorganisms. Among all carbohydrate-active enzymes (CAZymes) retrieved genes, glycoside transferase (GT) was the most abundant family, either in culture-independent or culture-based metagenome datasets. Within the glycoside hydrolases (GHs), GH13 was the most abundant family in both metagenome datasets. In the “heavy” fraction of the culture-independent metagenome SIP dataset, GH109 (α-N-acetylgalactosaminidases), GH117 (agarases), GH50 (agarases), GH32 (invertases and inulinases), GH17 (endoglucanases), and GH71 (mutanases) families were more abundant in comparison with the controls. Those GH families are affiliated to microorganism that are probably capable to degrade WH15EPS and potentially applicable for biofilm deconstruction. Subsequent in culture-based metagenome, the assembled 4 MAGs (unclassified Proteobacteria) also contained GH families of interest, involving mannosidases, lysozymes, galactosidases, and chitinases.

    We demonstrated that functional diversity induced by the presence of WH15EPS in both culture-independent and culture-dependent approaches was enriched in GHs, such as amylases and endoglucanases that could be applied in chemical, pharmaceutical, and food industrial sectors. Furthermore, WH15EPS may be used for the investigation and isolation of yet unknown taxa, such as unclassified Proteobacteria and Planctomycetes, increasing the number of current cultured bacterial representatives with potential biotechnological traits.
  • BMC Genomics

    Exploration of tissue-specific gene expression patterns underlying timing of breeding in contrasting temperature environments in a song bird

    Veronika Laine, Irene C. Verhagen, A.C. Mateman, Agata Pijl, Tony D. Williams, Phillip Gienapp, Kees van Oers, Marcel E. Visser
    Seasonal timing of breeding is a life history trait with major fitness consequences but the genetic basis of the physiological mechanism underlying it, and how gene expression is affected by date and temperature, is not well known. In order to study this, we measured patterns of gene expression over different time points in three different tissues of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal-liver axis, and investigated specifically how temperature affects this axis during breeding. We studied female great tits (Parus major) from lines artificially selected for early and late timing of breeding that were housed in two contrasting temperature environments in climate-controlled aviaries. We collected hypothalamus, liver and ovary samples at three different time points (before and after onset of egg-laying). For each tissue, we sequenced whole transcriptomes of 12 pools (n = 3 females) to analyse gene expression.
  • Environmental Microbiology

    Nitrification inhibitors effectively target N2O-producing Nitrosospira spp. in tropical soil

    Noriko Cassman, Johnny Soares, Agata Pijl, Késia Lourenço, Hans van Veen, Heitor Cantarella, Eiko Kuramae
    The nitrification inhibitors (NIs) 3,4‐dimethylpyrazole (DMPP) and dicyandiamide (DCD) can effectively reduce N2O emissions; however, which species are targeted and the effect of these NIs on the microbial nitrifier community is still unclear. Here, we identified the ammonia oxidizing bacteria (AOB) species linked to N2O emissions and evaluated the effects of urea and urea with DCD and DMPP on the nitrifying community in a 258 day field experiment under sugarcane. Using an amoA AOB amplicon sequencing approach and mining a previous dataset of 16S rRNA sequences, we characterized the most likely N2O‐producing AOB as a Nitrosospira spp. and identified Nitrosospira (AOB), Nitrososphaera (archaeal ammonia oxidizer) and Nitrospira (nitrite‐oxidizer) as the most abundant, present nitrifiers. The fertilizer treatments had no effect on the alpha and beta diversities of the AOB communities. Interestingly, we found three clusters of co‐varying variables with nitrifier operational taxonomic units (OTUs): the N2O‐producing AOB Nitrosospira with N2O, NO3−, NH4+, water‐filled pore space (WFPS) and pH; AOA Nitrososphaera with NO3−, NH4+ and pH; and AOA Nitrososphaera and NOB Nitrospira with NH4+, which suggests different drivers. These results support the co‐occurrence of non‐N2O‐producing Nitrososphaera and Nitrospira in the unfertilized soils and the promotion of N2O‐producing Nitrosospira under urea fertilization. Further, we suggest that DMPP is a more effective NI than DCD in tropical soil under sugarcane.
  • Journal of Experimental Biology

    Fine-tuning of seasonal timing of breeding is regulated downstream in the underlying neuro-endocrine system in a small songbird

    Irene C. Verhagen, Veronika Laine, A.C. Mateman, Agata Pijl, Ruben de Wit, Bart van Lith, W. Kamphuis, Heidi M. Viitaniemi, Tony D. Williams, Samuel P. Caro, Simone L. Meddle, Phillip Gienapp, Kees van Oers, Marcel E. Visser
    Timing of breeding is under selection in wild populations due to climate change, and understanding the underlying physiological processes mediating timing provides insight in the potential rate of adaptation. Current knowledge on this variation in physiology is, however, mostly limited to males. We assessed whether individual differences in timing of breeding in females are reflected in differences in candidate gene expression and if so, whether these differences occur in the upstream (hypothalamus), or downstream (ovary and liver) parts of the neuroendocrine system. We used 72 female great tits from two generations of lines artificially selected for early and late egg-laying, which were housed in climate controlled aviaries and went through two breeding cycles within one year. In the first breeding season we obtained individual egg-laying dates, while in the second breeding season, using the same individuals, we sampled several tissues at three time points based on timing of the first breeding attempt. For each tissue, mRNA expression levels were measured using qPCR for a set of candidate genes associated with timing of reproduction and subsequently analysed for differences between generations, time points and individual timing of breeding. We found differences in gene expression between generations in all tissues with most pronounced differences in the hypothalamus. Differences between time points, and early and late laying females, were found exclusively in ovary and liver. Altogether, we show that fine-tuning of seasonal timing of breeding, and thereby the opportunity for adaptation in the neuroendocrine system, is regulated mostly downstream in the neuro-endocrine system.
  • Science of the Total Environment

    Recycling organic residues in agriculture impacts soil-borne microbial community structure, function and N2O emissions.

    Afnan Suleiman, Késia Lourenço, Leonardo Pitombo, L.W. Mendes, L.F.W. Roesch, Agata Pijl, J.B. do Carmo, Heitor Cantarella, Eiko Kuramae
    Recycling residues is a sustainable alternative to improve soil structure and increase the stock of nutrients. However, information about the magnitude and duration of disturbances caused by crop and industrial wastes on soil microbial community structure and function is still scarce. The objective of this study was to investigate how added residues from industry and crops together with nitrogen (N) fertiliser affect the microbial community structure and function, and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. The experimental sugarcane field had the following treatments: (I) control with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK), (II) sugarcane straw with NPK, (III) vinasse (by-product of ethanol industry) with NP, and (IV) vinasse plus sugarcane straw with NP. Soil samples were collected on days 1, 3, 6, 11, 24 and 46 of the experiment for DNA extraction and metagenome sequencing. N2O emissions were also measured. Treatments with straw and vinasse residues induced changes in soil microbial composition and potential functions. The change in the microbial community was highest in the treatments with straw addition with functions related to decomposition of different ranges of C-compounds overrepresented while in vinasse treatment, the functions related to spore-producing microorganisms were overrepresented. Furthermore, all additional residues increased microorganisms related to the nitrogen metabolism and vinasse with straw had a synergetic effect on the highest N2O emissions. The results highlight the importance of residues and fertiliser management in sustainable agriculture.
  • GCB Bioenergy

    Dominance of bacterial ammonium oxidizers and fungal denitrifiers in the complex nitrogen cycle pathways related to nitrous oxide emission

    Késia Lourenço, Mauricio Rocha Dimitrov, Agata Pijl, Johnny Soares, J.B. do Carmo, Hans van Veen, Heitor Cantarella, Eiko Kuramae
    Organic compounds and mineral nitrogen (N) usually increase nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. Vinasse, a by‐product of bio‐ethanol production that is rich in carbon, nitrogen, and potassium, is recycled in sugarcane fields as a bio‐fertilizer. Vinasse can contribute significantly to N2O emissions when applied with N in sugarcane plantations, a common practice. However, the biological processes involved in N2O emissions under this management practice are unknown. This study investigated the roles of nitrification and denitrification in N2O emissions from straw‐covered soils amended with different vinasses (CV: concentrated and V: nonconcentrated) before or at the same time as mineral fertilizers at different time points of the sugarcane cycle in two seasons. N2O emissions were evaluated for 90 days, the period that occurs most of the N2O emission from fertilizers; the microbial genes encoding enzymes involved in N2O production (archaeal and bacterial amoA, fungal and bacterial nirK, and bacterial nirS and nosZ), total bacteria, and total fungi were quantified by real‐time PCR. The application of CV and V in conjunction with mineral N resulted in higher N2O emissions than the application of N fertilizer alone. The strategy of vinasse application 30 days before mineral N reduced N2O emissions by 65% for CV, but not for V. Independent of rainy or dry season, the microbial processes were nitrification by ammonia‐oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea and denitrification by bacteria and fungi. The contributions of each process differed and depended on soil moisture, soil pH, and N sources. We concluded that amoA‐AOB was the most important gene related to N2O emissions, which indicates that nitrification by AOB is the main microbial‐driven process linked to N2O emissions in tropical soil. Interestingly, fungal nirK was also significantly correlated with N2O emissions, suggesting that denitrification by fungi contributes to N2O emission in soils receiving straw and vinasse application.

    Citing Literature
  • Microbiome

    Resilience of the resident soil microbiome to organic and inorganic amendment disturbances and to temporary bacterial invasion

    Késia Lourenço, Afnan Suleiman, Agata Pijl, Hans van Veen, H. Cantarella, Eiko Kuramae
    Vinasse, a by-product of sugarcane ethanol production, is recycled by sugarcane plantations as a fertilizer due to its rich nutrient content. However, the impacts of the chemical and microbial composition of vinasse on soil microbiome dynamics are unknown. Here, we evaluate the recovery of the native soil microbiome after multiple disturbances caused by the application of organic vinasse residue, inorganic nitrogen, or a combination of both during the sugarcane crop-growing season (389 days). Additionally, we evaluated the resistance of the resident soil microbial community to the vinasse microbiome.

    Vinasse applied alone or 30 days prior to N resulted in similar changes in the soil microbial community. Furthermore, the impact of the application of vinasse together with N fertilizer on the soil microbial community differed from that of N fertilizer alone. Organic vinasse is a source of microbes, nutrients, and organic matter, and the combination of these factors drove the changes in the resident soil microbial community. However, these changes were restricted to a short period of time due to the capacity of the soil community to recover. The invasive bacteria present in the vinasse microbiome were unable to survive in the soil conditions and disappeared after 31 days, with the exception of the Acetobacteraceae (native in the soil) and Lactobacillaceae families.

    Our analysis showed that the resident soil microbial community was not resistant to vinasse and inorganic N application but was highly resilient.
  • Oecologia

    Insights on dispersal and recruitment paradigms: sex- and age-dependent variations in a nomadic breeder

    Paul Acker, Charlotte Francesiaz, Arnaud Béchet, Nicolas Sadoul, Kate Lessells, Agata Pijl, Aurélien Besnard
    Sex- and age-dependence in recruitment and dispersal are often explained by costs arising from competition for holding a breeding territory over the years—a typical feature of species living in stable habitats. For instance, long-lived birds with male territoriality often exhibit large variation in recruitment age and higher dispersal in females and young individuals. As a corollary, we expected that species with ephemeral habitat suitability, and hence nomadic breeding, would show weak age- and sex-dependence in dispersal and low variation in recruitment age, because territory ownership is not maintained over the years. In addition, the higher cost of reproduction in females might not be (over)compensated for by costs of territoriality in males. Accordingly, females would recruit later than males. We explored these variations using multievent capture–recapture models over 13 years, 3479 (2392 sexed) slender-billed gulls (Chroicocephalus genei) and 45 colony sites along the French Mediterranean coast. As expected, variability in recruitment age was low with males recruiting earlier than females. Nonetheless, dispersal in and out of the study area decreased with age and was slightly higher in males than in females. Decreased dispersal with age might result from foraging benefits associated with increased spatial familiarity. Higher dispersal in males might be explained by a male-biased sex ratio or higher philopatry benefits in females (arising from their higher cost of reproduction). Sex- and age-dependent dispersal and recruitment may thus occur in the absence of year-to-year breeding territory ownership, which stresses the importance of considering other processes in shaping recruitment and dispersal patterns.
  • Frontiers in Microbiology

    Nitrosospira sp. govern nitrous oxide emissions in a tropical soil amended with residues of bioenergy crop

    Késia Lourenço, Noriko Cassman, Agata Pijl, Hans van Veen, Heitor Cantarella, Eiko Kuramae
    Organic vinasse, a residue produced during bioethanol production, increases nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions when applied with inorganic nitrogen (N) fertilizer in soil. The present study investigated the role of the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) community on the N2O emissions in soils amended with organic vinasse (CV: concentrated and V: non-concentrated) plus inorganic N fertilizer. Soil samples and N2O emissions were evaluated at 11, 19, and 45 days after fertilizer application, and the bacterial and archaea gene (amoA) encoding the ammonia monooxygenase enzyme, bacterial denitrifier (nirK, nirS, and nosZ) genes and total bacteria were quantified by real time PCR. We also employed a deep amoA amplicon sequencing approach to evaluate the effect of treatment on the community structure and diversity of the soil AOB community. Both vinasse types applied with inorganic N application increased the total N2O emissions and the abundance of AOB. Nitrosospira sp. was the dominant AOB in the soil and was correlated with N2O emissions. However, the diversity and the community structure of AOB did not change with vinasse and inorganic N fertilizer amendment. The results highlight the importance of residues and fertilizer management in sustainable agriculture and can be used as a reference and an input tool to determine good management practices for organic fertilization.
  • Scientific Reports

    Nitrous oxide emission related to ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and mitigation options from N fertilization in a tropical soil

    Johnny Soares, Noriko Cassman, Anna Kielak, Agata Pijl, J.B. do Carmo, Késia Lourenço, (Riks) H.J. Laanbroek, H. Cantarella, Eiko Kuramae
    Nitrous oxide (N2O) from nitrogen fertilizers applied to sugarcane has high environmental impact on ethanol production. This study aimed to determine the main microbial processes responsible for the N2O emissions from soil fertilized with different N sources, to identify options to mitigate N2O emissions, and to determine the impacts of the N sources on the soil microbiome. In a field experiment, nitrogen was applied as calcium nitrate, urea, urea with dicyandiamide or 3,4 dimethylpyrazone phosphate nitrification inhibitors (NIs), and urea coated with polymer and sulfur (PSCU). Urea caused the highest N2O emissions (1.7% of N applied) and PSCU did not reduce cumulative N2O emissions compared to urea. NIs reduced N2O emissions (95%) compared to urea and had emissions comparable to those of the control (no N). Similarly, calcium nitrate resulted in very low N2O emissions. Interestingly, N2O emissions were significantly correlated only with bacterial amoA, but not with denitrification gene (nirK, nirS, nosZ) abundances, suggesting that ammonia-oxidizing bacteria, via the nitrification pathway, were the main contributors to N2O emissions. Moreover, the treatments had little effect on microbial composition or diversity. We suggest nitrate-based fertilizers or the addition of NIs in NH4+-N based fertilizers as viable options for reducing N2O emissions in tropical soils and lessening the environmental impact of biofuel produced from sugarcane.
  • Genome Biology and Evolution

    The genome of the winter moth (Operophtera brumata) provides a genomic perspective on sexual dimorphism and phenology

    M. Derks, Sandra Smit, Lucia Salis, E. Schijlen, A. Bossers, A.C. Mateman, Agata Pijl, A. De Ridder, M.A.M. Groenen, Marcel E. Visser, H-J. Megens
    The winter moth (Operophtera brumata) belongs to one of the most species-rich families in Lepidoptera, the Geometridae (approx. 23,000 species). This family is of great economic importance as most species are herbivorous and capable of defoliating trees. Genome assembly of the winter moth allows the study of genes and gene families, such as the cytochrome P450 gene family, which is known to be vital in plant secondary metabolite detoxification and host plant selection. It also enables exploration of the genomic basis for female brachyptery (wing reduction), a feature of sexual dimorphism in winter moth, and for seasonal timing, a trait extensively studied in this species. Here we present a reference genome for the winter moth, the first geometrid and largest sequenced Lepidopteran genome to date (638 Mb) including a set of 16,912 predicted protein-coding genes. This allowed us to assess the dynamics of evolution on a genome wide scale using the P450 gene family. We also identified an expanded gene family potentially linked to female brachyptery, and annotated the genes involved in the circadian clock mechanism as main candidates for involvement in seasonal timing. The genome will contribute to Lepidopteran genomic resources and comparative genomics. In addition, the genome enhances our ability to understand the genetic and molecular basis of insect seasonal timing and thereby provides a reference for future evolutionary and population studies on the winter moth.
  • Global Change Biology

    Impacts of 3 years of elevated atmospheric CO2 on rhizosphere carbon flow and microbial community dynamics

    Barbara Drigo, George Kowalchuk, B.A. Knapp, Agata Pijl, H.T.S. Boschker, Hans van Veen
    Carbon (C) uptake by terrestrial ecosystems represents an important option for partially mitigating anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Short-term atmospheric elevated CO2 exposure has been shown to create major shifts in C flow routes and diversity of the active soil-borne microbial community. Long-term increases in CO2 have been hypothesized to have subtle effects due to the potential adaptation of soil microorganism to the increased flow of organic C. Here, we studied the effects of prolonged elevated atmospheric CO2 exposure on microbial C flow and microbial communities in the rhizosphere. Carex arenaria (a nonmycorrhizal plant species) and Festuca rubra (a mycorrhizal plant species) were grown at defined atmospheric conditions differing in CO2 concentration (350 and 700 ppm) for 3 years. During this period, C flow was assessed repeatedly (after 6 months, 1, 2, and 3 years) by C-13 pulse-chase experiments, and label was tracked through the rhizosphere bacterial, general fungal, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal (AMF) communities. Fatty acid biomarker analyses and RNA-stable isotope probing (RNA-SIP), in combination with real-time PCR and PCR-DGGE, were used to examine microbial community dynamics and abundance. Throughout the experiment the influence of elevated CO2 was highly plant dependent, with the mycorrhizal plant exerting a greater influence on both bacterial and fungal communities. Biomarker data confirmed that rhizodeposited C was first processed by AMF and subsequently transferred to bacterial and fungal communities in the rhizosphere soil. Over the course of 3 years, elevated CO2 caused a continuous increase in the C-13 enrichment retained in AMF and an increasing delay in the transfer of C to the bacterial community. These results show that, not only do elevated atmospheric CO2 conditions induce changes in rhizosphere C flow and dynamics but also continue to develop over multiple seasons, thereby affecting terrestrial ecosystems C utilization processes. [KEYWORDS: C-13 arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi bacterial communities Carex arenaria elevated CO2 Festuca rubra fungal communities N/PLFA rhizosphere RNA-SIP mycorrhizal fungi climate-change fatty-acids arbuscular mycorrhizae environmental-change soil nitrogen plant microorganisms enrichment]
  • FEMS Microbiology Ecology

    Acidobacterial community responses to agricultural management of soybean in Amazon forest soils

    A.A. Navarrete, Eiko Kuramae, Mattias De Hollander, Agata Pijl, Hans van Veen, S.M. Tsai
    This study focused on the impact of land-use changes and agricultural management of soybean in Amazon forest soils on the abundance and composition of the acidobacterial community. Quantitative real-time PCR (q-PCR) assays and pyrosequencing of 16S rRNA gene were applied to study the acidobacterial community in bulk soil samples from soybean croplands and adjacent native forests, and mesocosm soil samples from soybean rhizosphere. Based on qPCR measurements, Acidobacteria accounted for 23% in forest soils, 18% in cropland soils, and 14% in soybean rhizosphere of the total bacterial signals. From the 16S rRNA gene sequences of Bacteria domain, the phylum Acidobacteria represented 28% of the sequences from forest soils, 16% from cropland soils, and 17% from soybean rhizosphere. Acidobacteria subgroups 1–8, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 22, and 25 were detected with subgroup 1 as dominant among them. Subgroups 4, 6, and 7 were significantly higher in cropland soils than in forest soils, which subgroups responded to decrease in soil aluminum. Subgroups 6 and 7 responded to high content of soil Ca, Mg, Mn, and B. These results showed a differential response of the Acidobacteria subgroups to abiotic soil factors, and open the possibilities to explore acidobacterial subgroups as early-warning bioindicators of agricultural soil management effects in the Amazon area.
  • FEMS Microbiology Ecology

    Soil characteristics more strongly influence soil bacterial communities than land-use type

    Eiko Kuramae, E. Yergeau, Lina Wong, Agata Pijl, Hans van Veen, George Kowalchuk
    To gain insight into the factors driving the structure of bacterial communities in soil, we applied real-time PCR, PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoreses, and phylogenetic microarray approaches targeting the 16S rRNA gene across a range of different land usages in the Netherlands. We observed that the main differences in the bacterial communities were not related to land-use type, but rather to soil factors. An exception was the bacterial community of pine forest soils (PFS), which was clearly different from all other sites. PFS had lowest bacterial abundance, lowest numbers of operational taxonomic units (OTUs), lowest soil pH, and highest C : N ratios. C : N ratio strongly influenced bacterial community structure and was the main factor separating PFS from other fields. For the sites other than PFS, phosphate was the most important factor explaining the differences in bacterial communities across fields. Firmicutes were the most dominant group in almost all fields, except in PFS and deciduous forest soils (DFS). In PFS, Alphaproteobacteria was most represented, while in DFS, Firmicutes and Gammaproteobacteria were both highly represented. Interestingly, Bacillii and Clostridium OTUs correlated with pH and phosphate, which might explain their high abundance across many of the Dutch soils. Numerous bacterial groups were highly correlated with specific soil factors, suggesting that they might be useful as indicators of soil status.
  • PLoS One

    A comparison of rpoB and 16S rRNA as markers in pyrosequencing studies of bacterial diversity

    M. Vos, C. Quince, Agata Pijl, Mattias De Hollander, George Kowalchuk
    Background The 16S rRNA gene is the gold standard in molecular surveys of bacterial and archaeal diversity, but it has the disadvantages that it is often multiple-copy, has little resolution below the species level and cannot be readily interpreted in an evolutionary framework. We compared the 16S rRNA marker with the single-copy, protein-coding rpoB marker by amplifying and sequencing both from a single soil sample. Because the higher genetic resolution of the rpoB gene prohibits its use as a universal marker, we employed consensus-degenerate primers targeting the Proteobacteria. Methodology/Principal Findings Pyrosequencing can be problematic because of the poor resolution of homopolymer runs. As these erroneous runs disrupt the reading frame of protein-coding sequences, removal of sequences containing nonsense mutations was found to be a valuable filter in addition to flowgram-based denoising. Although both markers gave similar estimates of total diversity, the rpoB marker revealed more species, requiring an order of magnitude fewer reads to obtain 90% of the true diversity. The application of population genetic methods was demonstrated on a particularly abundant sequence cluster. Conclusions/Significance The rpoB marker can be a complement to the 16S rRNA marker for high throughput microbial diversity studies focusing on specific taxonomic groups. Additional error filtering is possible and tests for recombination or selection can be employed.
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

    Shifting carbon flow from roots into associated microbial communities in response to elevated atmospheric CO2

    Barbara Drigo, Agata Pijl, Henk Duyts, Anna Kielak, H.A. Gamper, M.J. Houtekamer, H.T.S. Boschker, Paul Bodelier, A.S. Whiteley, Hans van Veen, George Kowalchuk
    Rising atmospheric CO2 levels are predicted to have major consequences on carbon cycling and the functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. Increased photosynthetic activity is expected, especially for C-3 plants, thereby influencing vegetation dynamics; however, little is known about the path of fixed carbon into soil-borne communities and resulting feedbacks on ecosystem function. Here, we examine how arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) act as a major conduit in the transfer of carbon between plants and soil and how elevated atmospheric CO2 modulates the belowground translocation pathway of plant-fixed carbon. Shifts in active AMF species under elevated atmospheric CO2 conditions are coupled to changes within active rhizosphere bacterial and fungal communities. Thus, as opposed to simply increasing the activity of soil-borne microbes through enhanced rhizodeposition, elevated atmospheric CO2 clearly evokes the emergence of distinct opportunistic plant-associated microbial communities. Analyses involving RNA-based stable isotope probing, neutral/phosphate lipid fatty acids stable isotope probing, community fingerprinting, and real-time PCR allowed us to trace plant-fixed carbon to the affected soil-borne microorganisms. Based on our data, we present a conceptual model in which plant-assimilated carbon is rapidly transferred to AMF, followed by a slower release from AMF to the bacterial and fungal populations well-adapted to the prevailing (myco-)rhizosphere conditions. This model provides a general framework for reappraising carbon-flow paths in soils, facilitating predictions of future interactions between rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations and terrestrial ecosystems.
  • ISME Journal

    Phylogenetic diversity of Acidobacteria in a former agricultural soil

    Anna Kielak, Agata Pijl, Hans van Veen, George Kowalchuk
    Although Acidobacteria represent the most abundant bacterial phylum in many soils, knowledge of acidobacterial diversity is still rather incomplete. We, therefore, examined the diversity of 16S rRNA genes affiliated with this phylum in a former arable soil via three independent approaches: (1) screening of a fosmid metagenome library for inserts containing Acidobacteria-like 16S rRNA genes; (2) PCR-cloning using general bacterial primers; and (3) PCR-cloning with acidobacterial-specific primers. Bacterial-specific libraries compared rhizosphere versus bulk soil samples, revealing a higher proportion of acidobacterial sequences in bulk soil libraries (P
  • FEMS Microbiology Ecology

    Differences in vegetation composition and plant species identity lead to only minor changes in soil-borne microbial communities in a former arable field

    Anna Kielak, Agata Pijl, Hans van Veen, George Kowalchuk
    To examine the relationship between plant species composition and microbial community diversity and structure, we carried out a molecular analysis of microbial community structure and diversity in two field experiments. In the first experiment, we examined bacterial community structure in bulk and rhizosphere soils in fields exposed to different plant diversity treatments, via a 16S rRNA gene clone library approach. Clear differences were observed between bacterial communities of the bulk soil and the rhizosphere, with the latter containing lower bacterial diversity. The second experiment focused on the influence of 12 different native grassland plant species on bacterial community size and structure in the rhizosphere, as well as the structure of Acidobacteria and Verrucomicrobia community structures. In general, bacterial and phylum-specific quantitative PCR and PCR-denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis revealed only weak influences of plant species on rhizosphere communities. Thus, although plants did exert an influence on microbial species composition and diversity, these interactions were not specific and selective enough to lead to major impacts of vegetation composition and plant species on below-ground microbial communities.

Projects & collaborations


  • Deciphering the role of fungal denitrifiers in N2O production from soils

    Project Present
    The goal of this project is to decipher the role of fungal denitrifiers in N2O production from soils under sustainable management practices. Here we apply mesocosms experiments combined with SIP and meta-omics approaches targeting the functional genes of N cycle. In addition, we design primers for fungal denitrifiers based on complete fungal genomes and soil metagenomics data.  
  • The role of beneficial microbe in soil aggregation

    Project 2019–Present
    The aim of this project is to determine the ecological relationship between bacteria and soil aggregates. We inoculate individual beneficial bacteria and different microbial communities from different natural soils in simulated Mars soil, attempting to explain their improvement in soil aggregate stability by bacterial exudates (EPS), necromass and microbial functional traits.
    Aggregate in Mars simulated soil by Acidobacteria WH15 (photo: Jan Dijksterhuis)
  • Microbial Farming to increase plant productivity

    Project 2018–Present
    Plant-growth promoting microbes (PGPM) are a viable alternative to traditional fertilizers for enhancing plant productivity and improving soil quality without environmental pollution. The use of PGPM in agriculture has been hampered by a lack of reproducible results and the difficulty of transferring this technology to the field. This inconsistent success primarily reflects competition or resistance of the original soil microbiome to inoculants, as well as the negative effects of management practices such as fertilization on plant interactions with the soil microbiome and the efficiency of ecosystem services delivered by PGPM. We were the first to circumvent this problem under field conditions by manipulating the soil microbiome to successfully obtain consistent, positive effects of inoculated microbes on plant productivity (Cipriano et al., 2016; However, the influence of the indigenous soil microbiome on plants remains largely unknown. We propose to investigate this tripartite, PGPM-plant-soil microbiome interaction in plant quality and productivity using state-of-the-art ‘omics’ and bioinformatics approaches to investigate facilitation (positive interactions) and competition (negative interactions) by both microbes and PGPM within the plant realized niche following gradients of both soil diversity and nutrient availability. This research will facilitate the development of innovative methods for agricultural and horticultural starting material production using PGPM for sustainable crop production by combining techniques to reduce nutrient input and enhance the efficiency and long-lasting effects of PGPM. This research proposal will integrate approaches to obtain a fundamental understanding of these tripartite interactions in a smart microbiome engineered plant production system for sustainable high-quality crop production.
    Soil microbial farming to increase plant productivity: reducing nutrient inputs to increase plant-microbe interactions and managing soil microbial diversity
  • Harnessing the rhizosphere microbiome to enhance plant productivity

    Project 2015–Present
    In Bio-Based Economy, plant materials are an essential resource for new industrial and sustainable applications. To ensure the production of sufficient plant biomass there is a need of mineral fertilizers. However, intensive fertilization causes leaching and run-off of nutrients, reduction in biodiversity, production of greenhouse gasses, global warming and changes in soil pH leading to environmental degradation. A key challenge is to intensify agricultural production methods in a way that minimizes harmful environmental effects of fertilizers. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new strategies that optimize plant growth and minimize abiotic and biotic factors that adversely affect plant growth and quality. The plant microbiome, i.e. the collective microbial communities associated with plants, harbors various fungal and bacterial genera that have beneficial effects on plant growth and health. Several bacterial genera promote plant growth and induce systemic resistance in plants against pathogens as well as insect pests. Recent 'omics'-based studies revealed that specific rhizobacteria cause substantial transcriptional changes in plants, leading to elevated levels of specific plant genes expression. Brazilian sugarcane production system is being developed towards to sustainable manner by recycling straw and vinasse (byproduct of ethanol industry), which combined practices allow less mineral fertilizers to be added into soil. In addition, the use of beneficial bacteria, such as plant growth promoting bacteria (PGPB) isolated from sugarcane rhizosphere has shown to increase plant growth and health under controlled situation. However, detailed investigation and fundamental understanding of the effect of these PGPB in different sugarcane genotypes in different soils containing different microbial community are urgent need. Therefore, this proposal aims to: (i) determine the effect of different soil microbial community composition on sugarcane growth inoculated with PGPB; (ii) identify the PGPB traits and genes involved in plant growth promotion; (iii) identify the plant traits and genes involved in plant growth promotion induced by PGPB. Potential applications of this proposal will be (i) the identified PGPB traits and genes to ensure or enhance plant biomass, yield and quality; (ii) the identified genotype-specific genes induced by PGPB responsible for enhancing plant productivity. The proposed project will provide new insights into mechanisms, traits and genes underlying PGPB-plant interactions and will yield new leads and tools to ensure/enhance sugarcane biomass for bio-based economy
  • REPHORM - REcycled PHOsphorus Resolved by Microbes

    Project Present
    Sufficient Phosphorus (P) and Iron (Fe) supply is essential for crop production. Most of the P and Fe in soil is not readily available for the plant, making agriculture depending on inorganic fertilizers mainly derived from depletable resources. An alternative to this unsustainable practice is to use recycled compounds recovered during wastewater treatment. This project focuses on the use of the two recycled compounds struvite (MgNH4PO4·6H2O) and vivianite (Fe3(PO4)2·8H2O) which are both insoluble and hard to synchronize with the nutrient needs during early plant development. To increase efficient nutrient release of these recycled sources, we propose the use of microbes that can solubilize P and release siderophore, both recognized traits of plant growth promoting microbes. Several plant growth-promoting microbes have been isolated, but their transfer to agriculture, so far, resulted in an inconsistent success, due to competition or resistance of the resident soil microbiome to inoculants. This project will circumvent this challenge by steering the local microbiome with the addition of recycled nutrients and will further optimize the microbiome by microbial community breeding. Overall, this project will focus on identifying microbial community members with struvite and vivianite solubilizing function, optimizing these communities, determining the role of these communities on increasing the nutrient release as well as monitoring the recruitment of these beneficial microbes in the rhizosphere and the effect on plant growth.
  • Farming microbial community for plant probiotic - MicroProFarm

    Project 2020–Present
    A current challenge for modern agriculture is to meet the food production needs for an increasing global population while improving resource use efficiency and attenuating impacts on human health and environment. In order to maximize reliability and stability in agriculture, optimization of crop management and resource use efficiency have been considered the best approaches for a sustainable increase of crop yields under variable agro-ecological conditions, environments and years. For this purpose, one interesting and sustainable method is the use of natural plant biostimulants, a diverse class of products and microorganisms that enhance plant growth and other plant parameters, such as flowering, fruit set, crop productivity and nutrient use efficiency. In this context, several studies already demonstrated that plant biostimulants can induce morpho-anatomical, biochemical, physiological and molecular plant responses, not only improving crop productivity but also promoting protection against abiotic stresses, such as drought and salinity. Among the different biostimulant classes there are protein hydrolysates (PH), mixtures of polypeptides, oligopeptides and aminoacids originated from partially hydrolyzed animal and vegetal tissues. Even though the effect of PH were already observed in diverse crops, the mechanisms and behind their action are still scarcely studied, and their action can vary depending on their origin, characteristics, crop species, cultivars, growing conditions, time and mode of applications, among other parameters. The objective of this project is to evaluate the effect of protein hydrolysates in the growth, nutrient content and microbial communities of crops, if microbes are responsible for these effects, which are the mechanisms and if such effects are long-lasting.
    Impact of protein biostimulants in a variety of crops
  • Unravelling the mechanisms underlying health and productivity promoting agricultural practices by fine-mapping rhizosphere communities

    Project 2015–2019
    Plant species shape their own rhizosphere community, and on its turn selected soil biota shape the growth and development of plants.
    Plant species shape their own rhizosphere community, and on its turn selected soil biota shape the growth and development of plants.
  • Microbial Networks controlling soil greenhouse gases emissions

    Project 2014–2019
    Soils are considered principally non-renewable resources. Soil ecosystem services have a large impact on numerous societal demands and are of high economic importance. Within the area of sustainable agriculture, it is expected that agricultural production will increasingly rely on the natural nutrient retention and recycling capabilities of soil. This project seeks to provide a fundamental scientific understanding of soil functioning and the resulting ecosystem services in Brazilian and Dutch bio-economies based on innovative microbial ecology and soil science studies. Focus is in sugarcane crop production systems by linking soil microbial composition and functioning, waste residues recycling, fertilizers, soil factors and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions through integrating and complementing the strong expertise of Brazilian and Dutch researchers from different areas of agronomy, soil sciences, plant nutrition, biogeochemistry, soil ecology, microbial ecology, ecological genomics, molecular ecology and bioinformatics. We will quantify the microbial functional groups and microbial abundance of C and N cycle genes and measure GHG emissions (CO2, CH4 and N2O) from soils during the productive cycle of the plant under different management practices and verify the temporal and spatial variability of these emissions in the evaluated treatments with different concentrations of sugarcane vinasse residue combined with N mineral fertilizers in combination with straw additions, and determine the conditions under which such GHG emissions can be counteracted, or minimized most. The proposed project will enhance fundamental scientific understanding of the interactive role of the microbial networks operating in soil and the consequences of bio-based agricultural management practices for the functioning of soil systems.
    Microbial Networks in control of greenhouse gases emissions in Bio-based agriculture-MiniBag