Naegleria gruberi is a free-living heterotrophic aerobic amoeba well known for its ability to transform from an amoeba to a flagellate form. The genome of N. gruberi has been recently published, and in silico predictions demonstrated that Naegleria has the capacity for both aerobic respiration and anaerobic biochemistry to produce molecular hydrogen in its mitochondria. This finding was considered to have fundamental implications on the evolution of mitochondrial metabolism and of the last eukaryotic common ancestor. However, no actual experimental data have been shown to support this hypothesis. For this reason, we have decided to investigate the anaerobic metabolism of the mitochondrion of N. gruberi. Using in vivo biochemical assays, we have demonstrated that N. gruberi has indeed a functional [FeFe]-hydrogenase, an enzyme that is attributed to anaerobic organisms. Surprisingly, in contrast to the published predictions, we have demonstrated that hydrogenase is localized exclusively in the cytosol, while no hydrogenase activity was associated with mitochondria of the organism. In addition, cytosolic localization displayed for HydE, a marker component of hydrogenase maturases. Naegleria gruberi, an obligate aerobic organism and one of the earliest eukaryotes, is producing hydrogen, a function that raises questions on the purpose of this pathway for the lifestyle of the organism and potentially on the evolution of eukaryotes.
Keywords: Naegleria; hydrogen hypothesis; hydrogenase; maturases; mitochondrial evolution.