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Arch Microbiol. 1993;160(6):432-9.

The reduction of nitrous oxide to dinitrogen by Escherichia coli.

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  • 1Botanisches Institut, Universität zu Köln, Germany.


Escherichia coli K12 reduces nitrous oxide stoichiometrically to molecular nitrogen with rates of 1.9 mumol/h x mg protein. The activity is induced by anaerobiosis and nitrate. N2-formation from N2O is inhibited by C2H2 (Ki approximately 0.03 mM in the medium) and nitrite (Ki = 0.3 mM) but not by azide. A mutant defective in FNR synthesis is unable to reduce N2O to N2. The reaction in the wild type could routinely be followed by gas chromatography and alternatively by mass spectrometry measuring the formation of 15N2 from 15N2O. The enzyme catalyzing N2O-reduction in E. coli could not be identified; it is probably neither nitrate reductase nor nitrogenase. E. coli does not grow with N2O as sole respiratory electron acceptor. N2O-reduction might not have a physiological role in E. coli, and the enzyme involved might catalyze something else in nature, as it has a low affinity for the substrate N2O (apparent Km approximately 3.0 mM). The capability for N2O-reduction to N2 is not restricted to E. coli but is also demonstrable in Yersinia kristensenii and Buttiauxella agrestis of the Enterobacteriaceae. E. coli is able to produce NO and N2O from nitrite by nitrate reductase, depending on the assay conditions. In such experiments NO2- is not reduced to N2 because of the high demand for N2O of N2O-reduction and the inhibitory effect of NO2- on this reaction.

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