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J Bacteriol. Aug 1996; 178(15): 4493–4499.
PMCID: PMC178215

Isolation and characterization of the VnfEN genes of the cyanobacterium Anabaena variabilis.


The filamentous cyanobacterium Anabaena variabilis fixes nitrogen in the presence of vanadium (V) and in the absence of molybdenum (Mo), using a V-dependent nitrogenase (V-nitrogenase) encoded by the vnfDGK genes. Downstream from these genes are two genes that are similar to the vnfEN genes of Azotobacter vinelandii. Like the vnfDGK genes, the vnfEN genes were transcribed in the absence of Mo, whether or not V was present. A mutant with an insertion in the vnfN gene lacked V-nitrogenase activity; thus, the vnfEN genes were essential for the V-nitrogenase system in A. variabilis. Growth and acetylene reduction assays with wild-type and mutant strains suggested that the V-nitrogenase reduced dinitrogen better than acetylene. The similarity of the vnfEN genes of A. variabilis and A. vinelandii was not strong. The vnfEN genes of A. variabilis showed greater similarity to the vnfDK genes just upstream than to the A. vinelandii vnfEN genes. Sequence comparisons provide support for the idea that if the vnf genes were transferred laterally among bacterial strains, the vnf cluster was not transferred intact. It appears likely that the structural genes were transferred before a duplication event led to the evolution of the vnfEN genes independently in the two strains. The divergence of the vnfEN genes from the vnfDK genes suggests that this duplication, and hence the transfer of vnf genes, was an ancient event.

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Selected References

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