Exploring the Ancestral Mechanisms of Regulation of Horizontally Acquired Nitrogenases

Abstract

The vast majority of Pseudomonas species are unable to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Although several studies have demonstrated that some strains belonging to the genus Pseudomonas sensu stricto do have the ability to fix nitrogen by the expression of horizontally acquired nitrogenase, little is known about the mechanisms of nitrogenase adaptation to the new bacterial host. Recently, we transferred the nitrogen fixation island from Pseudomonas stutzeri A1501 to the non-nitrogen-fixing bacterium Pseudomonas protegens Pf-5, and interestingly, the resulting recombinant strain Pf-5 X940 showed an uncommon phenotype of constitutive nitrogenase activity. Here, we integrated evolutionary and functional approaches to elucidate this unusual phenotype. Phylogenetic analysis showed that polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) biosynthesis genes from natural nitrogen-fixing Pseudomonas strains have been acquired by horizontal transfer. Contrary to Pf-5 X940, its derived PHB-producing strain Pf-5 X940-PHB exhibited the inhibition of nitrogenase activity under nitrogen-excess conditions, and displayed the typical switch-on phenotype observed in natural nitrogen-fixing strains after nitrogen deficiency. This indicates a competition between PHB production and nitrogen fixation. Therefore, we propose that horizontal transfer of PHB biosynthesis genes could be an ancestral mechanism of regulation of horizontally acquired nitrogenases in the genus Pseudomonas.

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Acknowledgments

This work was supported by Grants PICT 2011-1325, PICT-2014-1397, and PICT-2014-3659 to N.D.A.

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Correspondence to Nicolas Daniel Ayub.

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Pascuan, C., Fox, A.R., Soto, G. et al. Exploring the Ancestral Mechanisms of Regulation of Horizontally Acquired Nitrogenases. J Mol Evol 81, 84–89 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00239-015-9698-4

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Keywords

  • Nitrogenase
  • Polyhydroxybutyrate
  • Evolution
  • Horizontal transfer
  • Regulation