The nitrogenase enzyme, which catalyzes the reduction of N2 gas to NH4+, occurs as three separate isozyme that use Mo, Fe-only, or V. The majority of global nitrogen fixation is attributed to the more efficient 'canonical' Mo-nitrogenase, whereas Fe-only and V-('alternative') nitrogenases are often considered 'backup' enzymes, used when Mo is limiting. Yet, the environmental distribution and diversity of alternative nitrogenases remains largely unknown. We searched for alternative nitrogenase genes in sequenced genomes and used PacBio sequencing to explore the diversity of canonical (nifD) and alternative (anfD and vnfD) nitrogenase amplicons in two coastal environments: the Florida Everglades and Sippewissett Marsh (MA). Genome-based searches identified an additional 25 species and 10 genera not previously known to encode alternative nitrogenases. Alternative nitrogenase amplicons were found in both Sippewissett Marsh and the Florida Everglades and their activity was further confirmed using newly developed isotopic techniques. Conserved amino acid sequences corresponding to cofactor ligands were also analyzed in anfD and vnfD amplicons, offering insight into environmental variants of these motifs. This study increases the number of available anfD and vnfD sequences ∼20-fold and allows for the first comparisons of environmental Mo-, Fe-only, and V-nitrogenase diversity. Our results suggest that alternative nitrogenases are maintained across a range of organisms and environments and that they can make important contributions to nitrogenase diversity and nitrogen fixation.
The bacterial Wood–Ljungdahl pathway for CO2-reductive acetogenesis is important for the nutritional mutualism occurring between wood-feeding insects and their hindgut microbiota. A key step in this pathway is the reduction of CO2 to formate, catalysed by the enzyme formate dehydrogenase (FDH). Putative selenocysteine- (Sec) and cysteine- (Cys) containing paralogues of hydrogenase-linked FDH (FDHH) have been identified in the termite gut acetogenic spirochete, Treponema primitia, but knowledge of their relevance in the termite gut environment remains limited. In this study, we designed degenerate PCR primers for FDHH genes (fdhF) and assessed fdhF diversity in insect gut bacterial isolates and the gut microbial communities of termites and cockroaches. The insects examined herein represent three wood-feeding termite families, Termopsidae, Kalotermitidae and Rhinotermitidae (phylogenetically ‘lower’ termite taxa); the wood-feeding roach family Cryptocercidae (the sister taxon to termites); and the omnivorous roach family Blattidae. Sec and Cys FDHH variants were identified in every wood-feeding insect but not the omnivorous roach. Of 68 novel alleles obtained from inventories, 66 affiliated phylogenetically with enzymes from T. primitia. These formed two subclades (37 and 29 phylotypes) almost completely comprised of Sec-containing and Cys-containing enzymes respectively. A gut cDNA inventory showed transcription of both variants in the termite Zootermopsis nevadensis (family Termopsidae). The gene patterns suggest that FDHH enzymes are important for the CO2-reductive metabolism of uncultured acetogenic treponemes and imply that the availability of selenium, a trace element, shaped microbial gene content in the last common ancestor of dictyopteran, wood-feeding insects, and continues to shape it to this day.
The termite gut spirochete, Treponema primitia, is a CO(2)-reductive acetogen that is phylogenetically distinct from other distantly related and more extensively studied acetogens such as Moorella thermoacetica. Research on T. primitia has revealed details about the role of spirochetes in CO(2)-reductive acetogenesis, a process important to the mutualism occurring between termites and their gut microbial communities. Here, a locus of the T. primitia genome containing Wood-Ljungdahl pathway genes for CO(2)-reductive acetogenesis was sequenced. This locus contained methyl-branch genes of the pathway (i.e. for the reduction of CO(2) to the level of methyl-tetrahydrofolate) including paralogous genes for cysteine and selenocysteine (Sec) variants of formate dehydrogenase (FDH) and genes for Sec incorporation. The FDH variants affiliated phylogenetically with hydrogenase-linked FDH enzymes, suggesting that T. primitia FDH enzymes utilize electrons derived directly from molecular H(2). Sub-nanomolar concentrations of selenium decreased transcript levels of the cysteine variant FDH gene. Selenium concentration did not markedly influence the level of mRNA upstream of the Sec-codon in the Sec variant FDH; however, the level of transcript extending downstream of the Sec-codon increased incrementally with increasing selenium concentrations. The features and regulation of these FDH genes are an indication that T. primitia may experience dynamic selenium availability in its H(2)-rich gut environment.
Large hydrogen-isotopic (D/H) fractionations between lipids and growth water have been observed in most organisms studied to date. These fractionations are generally attributed to isotope effects in the biosynthesis of lipids, and are frequently assumed to be approximately constant for the purpose of reconstructing climatic variables. Here, we report D/H fractionations between lipids and water in 4 cultured members of the phylum Proteobacteria, and show that they can vary by up to 500‰ in a single organism. The variation cannot be attributed to lipid biosynthesis as there is no significant change in these pathways between cultures, nor can it be attributed to changing substrate D/H ratios. More importantly, lipid/water D/H fractionations vary systematically with metabolism: chemoautotrophic growth (approximately −200 to −400‰), photoautotrophic growth (−150 to −250‰), heterotrophic growth on sugars (0 to −150‰), and heterotrophic growth on TCA-cycle precursors and intermediates (−50 to +200‰) all yield different fractionations. We hypothesize that the D/H ratios of lipids are controlled largely by those of NADPH used for biosynthesis, rather than by isotope effects within the lipid biosynthetic pathway itself. Our results suggest that different central metabolic pathways yield NADPH—and indirectly lipids—with characteristic isotopic compositions. If so, lipid δD values could become an important biogeochemical tool for linking lipids to energy metabolism, and would yield information that is highly complementary to that provided by 13C about pathways of carbon fixation.
From the standpoints of both basic research and biotechnology, there is considerable interest in reaching a clearer understanding of the diversity of biological mechanisms employed during lignocellulose degradation. Globally, termites are an extremely successful group of wood-degrading organisms1 and are therefore important both for their roles in carbon turnover in the environment and as potential sources of biochemical catalysts for efforts aimed at converting wood into biofuels. Only recently have data supported any direct role for the symbiotic bacteria in the gut of the termite in cellulose and xylan hydrolysis2. Here we use a metagenomic analysis of the bacterial community resident in the hindgut paunch of a wood-feeding ‘higher’ Nasutitermes species (which do not contain cellulose-fermenting protozoa) to show the presence of a large, diverse set of bacterial genes for cellulose and xylan hydrolysis. Many of these genes were expressed in vivo or had cellulase activity in vitro, and further analyses implicate spirochete and fibrobacter species in gut lignocellulose degradation. New insights into other important symbiotic functions including H2 metabolism, CO2-reductive acetogenesis and N2 fixation are also provided by this first system-wide gene analysis of a microbial community specialized towards plant lignocellulose degradation. Our results underscore how complex even a 1-μl environment can be.
Synthetic chelators are commonly used in hydroponic media to solubilize iron (Fe); however, the fate of these chelators is unknown. This study examined the persistence of three synthetic chelators, ethylenediaminetetraacetate (EDTA), diethylenetriaminepentaacetate (DTPA), and ethylenediaminedisuccinate (EDDS) in a bench-scale lettuce production system. The EDDS concentration decreased rapidly within 7d, most likely due to biodegradation. The EDTA and DTPA concentrations stayed steady throughout the experiments despite additions to maintain a constant volume and loss of chelator may have been due to either plant uptake or photodegradation of the chelator. Despite large differences in solution chemistry, the final shoot concentrations of iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), and zinc (Zn) were similar among chelator treatments, whereas root concentrations of these same elements were highly variable. The concentration of DTPA in a commercial lettuce production system was measured and highly variable concentrations were found.