Acetylene (C2H2) is a trace constituent of the present Earth's oxidizing atmosphere, reflecting a mix of terrestrial and marine emissions from anthropogenic, biomass burning, and unidentified biogenic sources. Fermentation of acetylene was serendipitously discovered during C2H2-block assays of N2O reductase, and Pelobacter acetylenicus was shown to grow on C2H2 via acetylene hydratase (AH). AH is a W-containing, catabolic, low redox potential enzyme that unlike nitrogenase (N2ase) is specific for acetylene. Acetylene fermentation is a rare metabolism that is well-characterized only in P. acetylenicus DSM3246 and DSM3247, and Pelobacter sp. strain SFB93. To better understand the genetic controls on AH activity, we sequenced the genomes of the three acetylene-fermenting Pelobacter strains. Genome assembly and annotation produced three novel genomes containing gene sequences for AH, with two copies being present in SFB93. In addition, gene sequences for all five compulsory genes for Mo-Fe nitrogenase were also present in the three genomes, indicating the co-occurrence of 2 acetylene-transformation pathways. Nitrogen fixation growth assays showed that DSM3426 could ferment acetylene in the absence of ammonium, but no ethylene was produced. However, SFB93 degraded acetylene, and in the absence of ammonium, produced ethylene indicating an active N2ase. Diazotrophic growth was observed under N2 but not in experimental controls incubated under Ar. SFB93 exhibits acetylene fermentation and nitrogen fixation, the only known biochemical mechanisms for acetylene transformation. Our results indicate complex interactions between N2ase and AH and suggest novel evolutionary pathways of these relic enzymes from early Earth to modern day.Importance Here we show that a single Pelobacter strain can grow via acetylene fermentation and carry out nitrogen fixation, using the only 2 enzymes known to transform acetylene. These findings provide new insights into acetylene transformations and adaptations for nutrient (C, N) and energy acquisition by microorganisms. Enhanced understanding of acetylene transformations in modern environments (i.e., extent, occurrence, rates, etc.) is important for using acetylene as a potential biomarker for extraterrestrial life and degradation of anthropogenic contaminants. Copyright © 2017 American Society for Microbiology.
Journal: Applied and environmental microbiology