A New Pathway for Forming Acetate and Synthesizing ATP during Fermentation in Bacteria

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2021 Jun 25;87(14):e0295920. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02959-20. Epub 2021 Jun 25.


Many bacteria and other organisms carry out fermentations forming acetate. These fermentations have broad importance for foods, agriculture, and industry. They also are important for bacteria themselves because they often generate ATP. Here, we found a biochemical pathway for forming acetate and synthesizing ATP that was unknown in fermentative bacteria. We found that the bacterium Cutibacterium granulosum formed acetate during fermentation of glucose. It did not use phosphotransacetylase or acetate kinase, enzymes found in nearly all acetate-forming bacteria. Instead, it used a pathway involving two different enzymes. The first enzyme, succinyl coenzyme A (succinyl-CoA):acetate CoA-transferase (SCACT), forms acetate from acetyl-CoA. The second enzyme, succinyl-CoA synthetase (SCS), synthesizes ATP. We identified the genes encoding these enzymes, and they were homologs of SCACT and SCS genes found in other bacteria. The pathway resembles one described in eukaryotes, but it uses bacterial, not eukaryotic, gene homologs. To find other instances of the pathway, we analyzed sequences of all biochemically characterized homologs of SCACT and SCS (103 enzymes from 64 publications). Homologs with similar enzymatic activity had similar sequences, enabling a large-scale search for them in genomes. We searched nearly 600 genomes of bacteria known to form acetate, and we found that 6% encoded homologs with SCACT and SCS activity. This included >30 species belonging to 5 different phyla, showing that a diverse range of bacteria encode the SCACT/SCS pathway. This work suggests the SCACT/SCS pathway is important for acetate formation in many branches of the tree of life. IMPORTANCE Pathways for forming acetate during fermentation have been studied for over 80 years. In that time, several pathways in a range of organisms, from bacteria to animals, have been described. However, one pathway (involving succinyl-CoA:acetate CoA-transferase and succinyl-CoA synthetase) has not been reported in prokaryotes. Here, we discovered enzymes for this pathway in the fermentative bacterium Cutibacterium granulosum. We also found >30 other fermentative bacteria that encode this pathway, demonstrating that it could be common. This pathway represents a new way for bacteria to form acetate from acetyl-CoA and synthesize ATP via substrate-level phosphorylation. It could be a target for controlling yield of acetate during fermentation, with relevance for foods, agriculture, and industry.

Keywords: ATP; acetate; eubacteria; fermentation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / metabolism*
  • Acetyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism*
  • Coenzyme A-Transferases / genetics
  • Coenzyme A-Transferases / metabolism
  • Fermentation
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Propionibacteriaceae / genetics
  • Propionibacteriaceae / metabolism*
  • Succinate-CoA Ligases / genetics
  • Succinate-CoA Ligases / metabolism*


  • Acetates
  • Acetyl Coenzyme A
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Coenzyme A-Transferases
  • Succinate-CoA Ligases

Supplementary concepts

  • Cutibacterium granulosum