Investigating the Chemolithoautotrophic and Formate Metabolism of Nitrospira moscoviensis by Constraint-Based Metabolic Modeling and 13 C-Tracer Analysis

mSystems. 2021 Aug 31;6(4):e0017321. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00173-21. Epub 2021 Aug 17.


Nitrite-oxidizing bacteria belonging to the genus Nitrospira mediate a key step in nitrification and play important roles in the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle and wastewater treatment. While these organisms have recently been shown to exhibit metabolic flexibility beyond their chemolithoautotrophic lifestyle, including the use of simple organic compounds to fuel their energy metabolism, the metabolic networks controlling their autotrophic and mixotrophic growth remain poorly understood. Here, we reconstructed a genome-scale metabolic model for Nitrospira moscoviensis (iNmo686) and used flux balance analysis to evaluate the metabolic networks controlling autotrophic and formatotrophic growth on nitrite and formate, respectively. Subsequently, proteomic analysis and [13C]bicarbonate and [13C]formate tracer experiments coupled to metabolomic analysis were performed to experimentally validate model predictions. Our findings corroborate that N. moscoviensis uses the reductive tricarboxylic acid cycle for CO2 fixation, and we also show that N. moscoviensis can indirectly use formate as a carbon source by oxidizing it first to CO2 followed by reassimilation, rather than direct incorporation via the reductive glycine pathway. Our study offers the first measurements of Nitrospira's in vivo central carbon metabolism and provides a quantitative tool that can be used for understanding and predicting their metabolic processes. IMPORTANCE Nitrospira spp. are globally abundant nitrifying bacteria in soil and aquatic ecosystems and in wastewater treatment plants, where they control the oxidation of nitrite to nitrate. Despite their critical contribution to nitrogen cycling across diverse environments, detailed understanding of their metabolic network and prediction of their function under different environmental conditions remains a major challenge. Here, we provide the first constraint-based metabolic model of Nitrospira moscoviensis representing the ubiquitous Nitrospira lineage II and subsequently validate this model using proteomics and 13C-tracers combined with intracellular metabolomic analysis. The resulting genome-scale model will serve as a knowledge base of Nitrospira metabolism and lays the foundation for quantitative systems biology studies of these globally important nitrite-oxidizing bacteria.

Keywords: lithoautotrophic metabolism; metabolic modeling; metabolomics; proteomics; systems biology.