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Eukaryot Cell. 2007 Oct;6(10):1925-32. Epub 2007 Aug 31.

Hydrogen production by termite gut protists: characterization of iron hydrogenases of Parabasalian symbionts of the termite Coptotermes formosanus.

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Environmental Molecular Biology Laboratory, RIKEN, Hirosawa 2-1, Wako, Saitama, Japan.


Cellulolytic flagellated protists in the guts of termites produce molecular hydrogen (H(2)) that is emitted by the termites; however, little is known about the physiology and biochemistry of H(2) production from cellulose in the gut symbiotic protists due to their formidable unculturability. In order to understand the molecular basis for H(2) production, we here identified two genes encoding proteins homologous to iron-only hydrogenases (Fe hydrogenases) in Pseudotrichonympha grassii, a large cellulolytic symbiont in the phylum Parabasalia, in the gut of the termite Coptotermes formosanus. The two Fe hydrogenases were phylogenetically distinct and had different N-terminal accessory domains. The long-form protein represented a phylogenetic lineage unique among eukaryotic Fe hydrogenases, whereas the short form was monophyletic with those of other parabasalids. Active recombinant enzyme forms of these two Fe hydrogenases were successfully obtained without the specific auxiliary maturases. Although they differed in their extent of specific activity and optimal pH, both enzymes preferentially catalyzed H(2) evolution rather than H(2) uptake. H(2) evolution, at least that associated with the short-form enzyme, was still active even under high hydrogen partial pressure. H(2) evolution activity was detected in the hydrogenosomal fraction of P. grassii cells; however, the vigorous H(2) uptake activity of the endosymbiotic bacteria compensated for the strong H(2) evolution activity of the host protists. The results suggest that termite gut symbionts are a rich reservoir of novel Fe hydrogenases whose properties are adapted to the gut environment and that the potential of H(2) production in termite guts has been largely underestimated.

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