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Nature. 2010 Sep 16;467(7313):352-5. doi: 10.1038/nature09375.

Formate-driven growth coupled with H(2) production.

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Korea Ocean Research & Development Institute, PO Box 29, Ansan 425-600, Korea.


Although a common reaction in anaerobic environments, the conversion of formate and water to bicarbonate and H(2) (with a change in Gibbs free energy of ΔG° = +1.3 kJ mol(-1)) has not been considered energetic enough to support growth of microorganisms. Recently, experimental evidence for growth on formate was reported for syntrophic communities of Moorella sp. strain AMP and a hydrogen-consuming Methanothermobacter species and of Desulfovibrio sp. strain G11 and Methanobrevibacter arboriphilus strain AZ. The basis of the sustainable growth of the formate-users is explained by H(2) consumption by the methanogens, which lowers the H(2) partial pressure, thus making the pathway exergonic. However, it has not been shown that a single strain can grow on formate by catalysing its conversion to bicarbonate and H(2). Here we report that several hyperthermophilic archaea belonging to the Thermococcus genus are capable of formate-oxidizing, H(2)-producing growth. The actual ΔG values for the formate metabolism are calculated to range between -8 and -20 kJ mol(-1) under the physiological conditions where Thermococcus onnurineus strain NA1 are grown. Furthermore, we detected ATP synthesis in the presence of formate as a sole energy source. Gene expression profiling and disruption identified the gene cluster encoding formate hydrogen lyase, cation/proton antiporter and formate transporter, which were responsible for the growth of T. onnurineus NA1 on formate. This work shows formate-driven growth by a single microorganism with protons as the electron acceptor, and reports the biochemical basis of this ability.

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