Thursday, May 21, 2015

195 - Levels and activities of nitrogenase proteins in Azotobacter vinelandii grown at different dissolved oxygen concentrations

Obviously oxygen levels have a big effect on nitrogen-fixing Azotobacter. This study looked into specific effects on levels of different proteins related to nitrogen fixation, at different oxygen levels.

What They Saw
They grew A. vinelandii OP (aka CA) in chemostats with 3 g/L sucrose at different oxygen levels (or dilution rates). They measured nitrogenase activity and purified nitrogenase components as well as flavodoxin and FeSII protein.

Unlike in previous studies (111, 165, 183), increasing the oxygen levels didn't seem to reduce nitrogenase activity (in steady state), at least not in the range they tried (except maybe a little at low levels). At all different levels, nitrogenase activity (i.e. acetylene reduction) correlated only with dilution rate.

With Western blots, they found that levels of different nitrogenase proteins (and others) didn't really vary much across different oxygen levels; they were always about 10% of total protein. And if the activity doesn't vary, this means the proportion of active enzyme is constant too. The enzyme activity does match previous numbers though (106).

Trying to grow cells in ammonia, the two components of nitrogenase disappeared, flavodoxin decreased, but FeSII remained constant.

They tried measuring nitrogenase levels at different dilution rates and oxygen levels. At the lowest D, nitrogenase increased as oxygen increased, but it remained pretty constant at higher rates (as shown before). In contrast to the earlier data though, levels didn't seem to increase consistently with increasing D; it could be that the same quantity of enzyme is less active at lower D, probably related to the flow of electrons to the enzymes.

Then they tried inhibiting protein synthesis with chloramphenicol, at either low or high oxygen. The culture started to wash out, of course. Levels of the four proteins didn't change much with oxygen or with time passed after addition of the antibiotic, but nitrogenase activity decreased greatly over time (while respiratory activity didn't change much). This wasn't due to damage to the nitrogenase components; nitrogenase extracts had just as much activity as cells grown without chloramphenicol. Somehow the activity is inhibited.

What This Means
As suggested before, it seems like the absolute presence/concentration of oxygen doesn't determine its toxicity so much as the ratio of oxygen to availability of energy and reducing equivalents. So if there's enough energy and electrons available to nitrogenase, it can keep going up to high levels of oxygen.

Dingler, C., Kuhla, J., Wassink, H. & Oelze, J. Levels and activities of nitrogenase proteins in Azotobacter vinelandii grown at different dissolved oxygen concentrations. J Bacteriol 170, 2148–2152 (1988).

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