Alkane degradation under anoxic conditions by a nitrate-reducing bacterium with possible involvement of the electron acceptor in substrate activation

Environ Microbiol Rep. 2011 Feb;3(1):125-135. doi: 10.1111/j.1758-2229.2010.00198.x.


Microorganisms can degrade saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes) not only under oxic but also under anoxic conditions. Three denitrifying isolates (strains HxN1, OcN1, HdN1) able to grow under anoxic conditions by coupling alkane oxidation to CO(2) with NO(3) (-) reduction to N(2) were compared with respect to their alkane metabolism. Strains HxN1 and OcN1, which are both Betaproteobacteria, utilized n-alkanes from C(6) to C(8) and C(8) to C(12) respectively. Both activate alkanes anaerobically in a fumarate-dependent reaction yielding alkylsuccinates, as suggested by present and previous metabolite and gene analyses. However, strain HdN1 was unique in several respects. It belongs to the Gammaproteobacteria and was more versatile towards alkanes, utilizing the range from C(6) to C(30). Neither analysis of metabolites nor analysis of genes in the complete genome sequence of strain HdN1 hinted at fumarate-dependent alkane activation. Moreover, whereas strains HxN1 and OcN1 grew with alkanes and NO(3) (-), NO(2) (-) or N(2)O added to the medium, strain HdN1 oxidized alkanes only with NO(3) (-) or NO(2) (-) but not with added N(2)O; but N(2)O was readily used for growth with long-chain alcohols or fatty acids. Results suggest that NO(2) (-) or a subsequently formed nitrogen compound other than N(2)O is needed for alkane activation in strain HdN1. From an energetic point of view, nitrogen-oxygen species are generally rather strong oxidants. They may enable enzymatic mechanisms that are not possible under conditions of sulfate reduction or methanogenesis and thus allow a special mode of alkane activation.