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Evolution of Molybdenum Nitrogenase during the Transition from Anaerobic to Aerobic Metabolism

Author:
Boyd, Eric S., Costas, Amaya M. Garcia, Hamilton, Trinity L., Mus, Florence, Peters, John W.
Source:
Journal of bacteriology 2015 v.197 no.9 pp. 1690-1699
ISSN:
0021-9193
Subject:
aerobes, anaerobes, biogeochemical cycles, biosphere, carbon, ecosystems, gene deletion, genes, molybdenum, nitrogen, nitrogen fixation, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, nitrogenase, oxygen, phylogeny, protein metabolism, transcription (genetics)
Abstract:
Molybdenum nitrogenase (Nif), which catalyzes the reduction of dinitrogen to ammonium, has modulated the availability of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere since early in Earth's history. Phylogenetic evidence indicates that oxygen (O ₂)-sensitive Nif emerged in an anaerobic archaeon and later diversified into an aerobic bacterium. Aerobic bacteria that fix N ₂ have adapted a number of strategies to protect Nif from inactivation by O ₂, including spatial and temporal segregation of Nif from O ₂ and respiratory consumption of O ₂. Here we report the complement of Nif-encoding genes in 189 diazotrophic genomes. We show that the evolution of Nif during the transition from anaerobic to aerobic metabolism was accompanied by both gene recruitment and loss, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of nif genes. While the observed increase in the number of nif genes and their phylogenetic distribution are strongly correlated with adaptation to utilize O ₂ in metabolism, the increase is not correlated with any of the known O ₂ protection mechanisms. Rather, gene recruitment appears to have been in response to selective pressure to optimize Nif synthesis to meet fixed N demands associated with aerobic productivity and to more efficiently regulate Nif under oxic conditions that favor protein turnover. Consistent with this hypothesis, the transition of Nif from anoxic to oxic environments is associated with a shift from posttranslational regulation in anaerobes to transcriptional regulation in obligate aerobes and facultative anaerobes. Given that fixed nitrogen typically limits ecosystem productivity, our observations further underscore the dynamic interplay between the evolution of Earth's oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon biogeochemical cycles. IMPORTANCE Molybdenum nitrogenase (Nif), which catalyzes the reduction of dinitrogen to ammonium, has modulated the availability of fixed nitrogen in the biosphere since early in Earth's history. Nif emerged in an anaerobe and later diversified into aerobes. Here we show that the transition of Nif from anaerobic to aerobic metabolism was accompanied by both gene recruitment and gene loss, resulting in a substantial increase in the number of nif genes. While the observed increase in the number of nif genes is strongly correlated with adaptation to utilize O ₂ in metabolism, the increase is not correlated with any of the known O ₂ protective mechanisms. Rather, gene recruitment was likely a response to more efficiently regulate Nif under oxic conditions that favor protein turnover.
Agid:
1281705