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Nature. 1984 Nov 15-21;312(5991):286-8.

Dinitrogen fixation by a thermophilic methanogenic bacterium.


Methanogenic bacteria are known to use NH+4 as a nitrogen source for growth. Previous work with an impure methanogenic culture suggested that a methanogen might fix atmospheric dinitrogen as a nitrogen source, but no further work on this phenomenon has been documented. We have now examined the use of N2 by Methanococcus thermolithotrophicus and find that the organism can grow well, with multiple transfers, in medium having N2 as the source of nitrogen. Control cultures without N2 and containing less than 0.1 mM NH+4 do not grow. Growth yields with N2 are on the average one-third those with NH+4, suggesting that, as in other nitrogen-fixing organisms, this bacterium requires a large amount of ATP for the reduction to occur. After growing in NH+4-containing medium, a long lag is observed before growth begins with N2 as the nitrogen source; the NH+4 levels must be very low for growth to begin. Cells grown in N2-fixing conditions reduce acetylene to ethylene. The discovery of a nitrogen-fixing archaebacterium has important implications for studies on the evolution of nitrogenase, and the fact that M. thermolithotrophicus nitrogenase is active at 64 degrees C suggests that a novel enzyme is involved.

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