Collaborative Research: Acquisition of nitrogenase metal cofactors in soils: role of metallophores and limitation of N2-fixation

Project: Research project

Project Details


Intellectual merit: N2 fixation is effected exclusively by bacteria and archea using the enzyme nitrogenase, which contains Fe and Mo as metal cofactors in its most active form, and Fe and V, or Fe-only in its alternative forms. The aim of this project is to elucidate how the mechanisms and kinetics of bacterial acquisition of Fe, Mo and V from soils may limit or control N2 fixation rates. N2-fixing bacteria produce siderophores (or ?iron carriers?) to bind iron in the external medium and take up the resulting Fe-siderophore complexes. Our recent work has shown that the siderophores are actually ?metallophores? used in the uptake of Mo and V, along with Fe. The biological acquisition of the various nitrogenase metal cofactors thus depends on their binding by bacterial metallophores. This project is organized around two major hypotheses: 1. Free-living N2-fixing bacteria excrete metallophores that are particularly efficient at capturing the metal (Mo, V or Fe) that is limiting N2 fixation; 2. Because of both competition with other metals for metallophore binding and scarcity in soils, Mo is inherently difficult to acquire and free-living N2-fixing bacteria often use alternative nitrogenases, particularly the V-nitrogenase, to fix N2. These hypotheses will be tested through a combination of laboratory and field experiments. Field studies will focus on sites where Mo may be limiting and employ molecular biological techniques to identify alternative nitrogenases.

Broader Impacts: One postdoctoral researcher, one graduate student and several undergraduates will work on this project and be mentored by the PIs. Students from the local junior colleges will participate in the summer field research. The PIs will participate in the Quest summer program for school teachers.

Effective start/end date9/1/108/31/13


  • National Science Foundation: $39,682.00


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