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Diazotrophy And Nitrogenase Activity In The Archaebacterium Methanosarcina Barkeri 227

Anthony L. Lobo, Stephen H. Zinder

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Nitrogen fixation (diazotrophy) has recently been demonstrated in several methanogenic archaebacteria. To compare the process in an archaebacterium with that in eubacteria, we examined the properties of diazotrophic growth and nitrogenase activity in Methanosarcina barkeri 227. Growth yields with methanol or acetate as a growth substrate were significantly lower in N 2 -grown cultures than in NH 4 + -grown cultures, and the culture doubling times were increased, indicating that diazotrophy was energetically costly, as it is in eubacteria. Growth of nitrogen-fixing cells was inhibited when molybdenum was omitted from the medium; addition of 10 nM molybdate stimulated growth, while 1 μM molybdate restored maximum diazotrophic growth. Omission of molybdenum did not inhibit growth of ammonia-grown cells. Tungstate (100 μM) strongly inhibited growth of molybdenum-deficient diazotrophic cells, while ammonia-grown cells were unaffected. The addition of 100 nM vanadate or chromate did not stimulate diazotrophic growth of molybdenum-starved cells. These results are consistent with the presence of a molybdenum-containing nitrogenase in M. barkeri. Acetylene, the usual substrate for assaying nitrogenase activity, inhibited methanogenesis by M. barkeri and consequently needed to be used at a low partial pressure (0.3% of the headspace) when acetylene reduction by whole cells was assayed. Whole cells reduced 0.3% acetylene to ethylene at a very low rate (1 to 2 nmol h −1 mg of protein −1 ), and they “switched off” acetylene reduction in response to added ammonia or glutamine. Crude extracts from diazotrophic cells reduced 10% acetylene at a rate of 4 to 5 nmol of C 2 H 4 formed h −1 mg of protein −1 when supplied with ATP and reducing power, while extracts of Klebsiella pneumoniae prepared by the same procedures had rates 100-fold higher. Acetylene reduction by extracts required ATP and was completely inhibited by 1 mM ADP in the presence of 5 mM ATP. The low rates of C 2 H 2 reduction could be due to improper assay conditions, to switched-off enzyme, or to the nitrogenase's having lower activity towards acetylene than towards dinitrogen.