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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2004 Mar;70(3):1307-14.

Physiology and nutrition of Treponema primitia, an H2/CO2-acetogenic spirochete from termite hindguts.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Center for Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824, USA.


Treponema primitia strains ZAS-1 and ZAS-2, the first spirochetes to be isolated from termite hindguts (J. R. Leadbetter, T. M. Schmidt, J. R. Graber, and J. A. Breznak, Science 283:686-689, 1999), were examined for nutritional, physiological, and biochemical properties relevant to growth and survival in their natural habitat. In addition to using H(2) plus CO(2) as substrates, these strains were capable of homoacetogenic growth on mono- and disaccharides and (in the case of ZAS-2) methoxylated benzenoids. Cells were also capable of mixotrophic growth (i.e., simultaneous utilization of H(2) and organic substrates). Cell extracts of T. primitia possessed enzyme activities of the Wood/Ljungdahl (acetyl coenzyme A) pathway of acetogenesis, including tetrahydrofolate-dependent enzymes of the methyl group-forming branch. However, a folate compound was required in the medium for growth. ZAS-1 and ZAS-2 growing on H(2) plus CO(2) displayed H(2) thresholds of 650 and 490 ppmv, respectively. Anoxic cultures of ZAS-1 and ZAS-2 maintained growth after the addition of as much as 0.5% (vol/vol) O(2) to the headspace atmosphere. Cell extracts exhibited NADH and NADPH peroxidase and NADH oxidase activities but neither catalase nor superoxide dismutase activity. Results indicate that (i) T. primitia is able to exploit a variety of substrates derived from the food of its termite hosts and in so doing contributes to termite nutrition via acetogenesis, (ii) in situ growth of T. primitia is likely dependent on secretion of a folate compound(s) by other members of the gut microbiota, and (iii) cells possess enzymatic adaptations to oxidative stress, which is likely to be encountered in peripheral regions of the termite hindgut.

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