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Alkane degradation under anoxic conditions by a nitrate-reducing bacterium with possible involvement of the electron acceptor in substrate activation

Microorganisms can degrade saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes) not only under oxic but also under anoxic conditions. Three denitrifying isolates (strains HxN1, OcN1, HdN1) able to grow under anoxic conditions by coupling alkane oxidation to CO2 with NO3-reduction to N2 were compared with respect to their alkane metabolism. Strains HxN1 and OcN1, which are both Betaproteobacteria, utilized n-alkanes from C6 to C8 and C8 to C12 respectively. Both activate alkanes anaerobically in a fumarate-dependent reaction yielding alkylsuccinates, as suggested by present and previous metabolite and gene analyses. However, strain HdN1 was unique in several respects. It belongs to the Gammaproteobacteria and was more versatile towards alkanes, utilizing the range from C6 to C30. Neither analysis of metabolites nor analysis of genes in the complete genome sequence of strain HdN1 hinted at fumarate-dependent alkane activation. Moreover, whereas strains HxN1 and OcN1 grew with alkanes and NO3-, NO2- or N2O added to the medium, strain HdN1 oxidized alkanes only with NO3- or NO2- but not with added N2O; but N2O was readily used for growth with long-chain alcohols or fatty acids. Results suggest that NO2- or a subsequently formed nitrogen compound other than N2O is needed for alkane activation in strain HdN1. From an energetic point of view, nitrogen–oxygen species are generally rather strong oxidants. They may enable enzymatic mechanisms that are not possible under conditions of sulfate reduction or methanogenesis and thus allow a special mode of alkane activation.



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