It is well known that copper is a key factor regulating expression of the two forms of methane monooxygenase found in proteobacterial methanotrophs. Of these forms, the cytoplasmic, or soluble, methane monooxygenase (sMMO) is expressed only at low copper concentrations. The membrane-bound, or particulate, methane monooxygenase (pMMO) is constitutively expressed with respect to copper, and such expression increases with increasing copper. Recent findings have shown that copper uptake is mediated by a modified polypeptide, or chalkophore, termed methanobactin. Although methanobactin has high specificity for copper, it can bind other metals, e.g., gold. Here we show that in Methylosinus trichosporium OB3b, sMMO is expressed and active in the presence of copper if gold is also simultaneously present. Such expression appears to be due to gold binding to methanobactin produced by M. trichosporium OB3b, thereby limiting copper uptake. Such expression and activity, however, was significantly reduced if methanobactin preloaded with copper was also added. Further, quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-qPCR) of transcripts of genes encoding polypeptides of both forms of MMO and SDS-PAGE results indicate that both sMMO and pMMO can be expressed when copper and gold are present, as gold effectively competes with copper for binding to methanobactin. Such findings suggest that under certain geochemical conditions, both forms of MMO may be expressed and active in situ. Finally, these findings also suggest strategies whereby field sites can be manipulated to enhance sMMO expression, i.e., through the addition of a metal that can compete with copper for binding to methanobactin.
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