1 February 2017

Modular electron-transport chains from eukaryotic organelles function to support nitrogenase activity

A large number of genes are necessary for the biosynthesis and activity of the enzyme nitrogenase to carry out the process of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF), which requires large amounts of ATP and reducing power. The multiplicity of the genes involved, the oxygen sensitivity of nitrogenase, plus the demand for energy and reducing power, are thought to be major obstacles to engineering BNF into cereal crops. Genes required for nitrogen fixation can be considered as three functional modules encoding electron-transport components (ETCs), proteins required for metal cluster biosynthesis, and the "core" nitrogenase apoenzyme, respectively. Among these modules, the ETC is important for the supply of reducing power. In this work, we have used Escherichia coli as a chassis to study the compatibility between molybdenum and the iron-only nitrogenases with ETC modules from target plant organelles, including chloroplasts, root plastids, and mitochondria. We have replaced an ETC module present in diazotrophic bacteria with genes encoding ferredoxin-NADPH oxidoreductases (FNRs) and their cognate ferredoxin counterparts from plant organelles. We observe that the FNR-ferredoxin module from chloroplasts and root plastids can support the activities of both types of nitrogenase. In contrast, an analogous ETC module from mitochondria could not function in electron transfer to nitrogenase. However, this incompatibility could be overcome with hybrid modules comprising mitochondrial NADPH-dependent adrenodoxin oxidoreductase and the Anabaena ferredoxins FdxH or FdxB. We pinpoint endogenous ETCs from plant organelles as power supplies to support nitrogenase for future engineering of diazotrophy in cereal crops.

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