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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Apr 1976; 73(4): 1207–1211.
PMCID: PMC430231

Hydrogen evolution: A major factor affecting the efficiency of nitrogen fixation in nodulated symbionts

Abstract

Nitrogenase-dependent hydrogen evolution from detached legume nodules and from reaction mixtures containing cell-free nitrogenase has been well established, but the overall effect of hydrogen evolution on the efficiency of nitrogen fixation in vivo has not been critically assessed. This paper describes a survey which revealed that hydrogen evolution is a general phenomenon associated with nitrogen fixation by many nodulated nitrogen-fixing symbionts. An evaluation of the magnitude of energy loss in terms of the efficiency of electron transfer to nitrogen, via nitrogenase, in excised nodules suggested that hydrogen production may severely reduce nitrogen fixation in many legumes where photosynthate supply is a factor limiting fixation. With most symbionts, including soybeans, only 40-60% of the electron flow to nitrogenase was transferred to nitrogen. The remainder was lost through hydrogen evolution. In situ measurements of hydrogen evolution and acetylene reduction by nodulated soybeans confirmed the results obtained with excised nodules. In an atmosphere of air, a major portion of the total electron flux available for the reduction of atmospheric nitrogen by either excised nodules or intact nodulated plants was utilized in the production of hydrogen gas. Some non-leguminous symbionts, such as Alnus rubra, and a few legumes (i.e., Vigna sinensis) apparently have evolved mechanisms of minimizing net hydrogen production, thus increasing their efficiency of electron transfer to nitrogen. Our results indicate that the extent of hydrogen evolution during nitrogen reduction is a major factor affecting the efficiency of nitrogen fixation by many agronomically important legumes.

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Selected References

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