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Crit Rev Biochem Mol Biol. 2009 Jun;44(2-3):65-84. doi: 10.1080/10409230902722783.

Biochemistry and molecular biology of anammox bacteria.

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Department of Microbiology, IWWR, Faculty of Science, Radboud University of Nijmegen, Toernooiveld 1, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Anaerobic ammonium-oxidizing (anammox) bacteria are one of the latest additions to the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle. These bacteria derive their energy for growth from the conversion of ammonium and nitrite into dinitrogen gas in the complete absence of oxygen. These slowly growing microorganisms belong to the order Brocadiales and are affiliated to the Planctomycetes. Anammox bacteria are characterized by a compartmentalized cell architecture featuring a central cell compartment, the "anammoxosome". Thus far unique "ladderane" lipid molecules have been identified as part of their membrane systems surrounding the different cellular compartments. Nitrogen formation seems to involve the intermediary formation of hydrazine, a very reactive and toxic compound. The genome of the anammox bacterium Kuenenia stuttgartiensis was assembled from a complex microbial community grown in a sequencing batch reactor (74% enriched in this bacterium) using a metagenomics approach. The assembled genome allowed the in silico reconstruction of the anammox metabolism and identification of genes most likely involved in the process. The present anammox pathway is the only one consistent with the available experimental data, thermodynamically and biochemically feasible, and consistent with Ockham's razor: it invokes minimum biochemical novelty and requires the fewest number of biochemical reactions. The worldwide presence of anammox bacteria has now been established in many oxygen-limited marine and freshwater systems, including oceans, seas, estuaries, marshes, rivers and large lakes. In the marine environment over 50% of the N(2) gas released may be produced by anammox bacteria. Application of the anammox process offers an attractive alternative to current wastewater treatment systems for the removal of ammonia-nitrogen. Currently, at least five full scale reactor systems are operational.

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