2023 journal article
Mineral-Bound Trace Metals as Cofactors for Anaerobic Biological Nitrogen Fixation
Environmental Science & Technology.
Nitrogenase is the only known biological enzyme capable of reducing N2 to bioavailable NH3. Most nitrogenases use Mo as a metallocofactor, while alternative cofactors V and Fe are also viable. Both geological and bioinformatic evidence suggest an ancient origin of Mo-based nitrogenase in the Archean, despite the low concentration of dissolved Mo in the Archean oceans. This apparent paradox would be resolvable if mineral-bound Mo were bioavailable for nitrogen fixation by ancient diazotrophs. In this study, the bioavailability of mineral-bound Mo, V, and Fe was determined by incubating an obligately anaerobic diazotroph Clostridium kluyveri with Mo-, V-, and Fe-bearing minerals (molybdenite, cavansite, and ferrihydrite, respectively) and basalt under diazotrophic conditions. The results showed that C. kluyveri utilized mineral-associated metals to express nitrogenase genes and fix nitrogen, as measured by the reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction and acetylene reduction assay, respectively. C. kluyveri secreted chelating molecules to extract metals from the minerals. As a result of microbial weathering, mineral surface chemistry significantly changed, likely due to surface coating by microbial exudates for metal extraction. These results provide important support for the ancient origin of Mo-based nitrogenase, with profound implications for coevolution of the biosphere and geosphere.