Metabolic Fluxes of Nitrogen and Pyrophosphate in Chemostat Cultures of Clostridium thermocellum and Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2020 Nov 10;86(23):e01795-20. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01795-20. Print 2020 Nov 10.


Clostridium thermocellum and Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum were grown in cellobiose-limited chemostat cultures at a fixed dilution rate. C. thermocellum produced acetate, ethanol, formate, and lactate. Surprisingly, and in contrast to batch cultures, in cellobiose-limited chemostat cultures of T. saccharolyticum, ethanol was the main fermentation product. Enzyme assays confirmed that in C. thermocellum, glycolysis proceeds via pyrophosphate (PPi)-dependent phosphofructokinase (PFK), pyruvate-phosphate dikinase (PPDK), as well as a malate shunt for the conversion of phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to pyruvate. Pyruvate kinase activity was not detectable. In T. saccharolyticum, ATP but not PPi served as cofactor for the PFK reaction. High activities of both pyruvate kinase and PPDK were present, whereas the activities of a malate shunt enzymes were low in T. saccharolyticum In C. thermocellum, glycolysis via PPi-PFK and PPDK obeys the equation glucose + 5 NDP + 3 PPi → 2 pyruvate + 5 NTP + Pi (where NDP is nucleoside diphosphate and NTP is nucleoside triphosphate). Metabolic flux analysis of chemostat data with the wild type and a deletion mutant of the proton-pumping pyrophosphatase showed that a PPi-generating mechanism must be present that operates according to ATP + Pi → ADP + PPi Both organisms also produced significant amounts of amino acids in cellobiose-limited cultures. It was anticipated that this phenomenon would be suppressed by growth under nitrogen limitation. Surprisingly, nitrogen-limited chemostat cultivation of wild-type C. thermocellum revealed a bottleneck in pyruvate oxidation, as large amounts of pyruvate and amino acids, mainly valine, were excreted; up to 50% of the nitrogen consumed was excreted again as amino acids.IMPORTANCE This study discusses the fate of pyrophosphate in the metabolism of two thermophilic anaerobes that lack a soluble irreversible pyrophosphatase as present in Escherichia coli but instead use a reversible membrane-bound proton-pumping enzyme. In such organisms, the charging of tRNA with amino acids may become more reversible. This may contribute to the observed excretion of amino acids during sugar fermentation by Clostridium thermocellum and Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum Calculation of the energetic advantage of reversible pyrophosphate-dependent glycolysis, as occurs in Clostridium thermocellum, could not be properly evaluated, as currently available genome-scale models neglect the anabolic generation of pyrophosphate in, for example, polymerization of amino acids to protein. This anabolic pyrophosphate replaces ATP and thus saves energy. Its amount is, however, too small to cover the pyrophosphate requirement of sugar catabolism in glycolysis. Consequently, pyrophosphate for catabolism is generated according to ATP + Pi → ADP + PPi.

Keywords: Clostridium thermocellum; Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum; amino acid excretion; carbon limitation; chemostat culture; glycolysis; nitrogen limitation; pyrophosphate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bioreactors
  • Clostridium thermocellum / metabolism*
  • Diphosphates / metabolism*
  • Metabolic Flux Analysis
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Thermoanaerobacterium / metabolism*


  • Diphosphates
  • Nitrogen

Supplementary concepts

  • Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum