Report

Nitrogen Fixation by Symbiotic and Free-Living Spirochetes

Science  29 Jun 2001:
Vol. 292, Issue 5526, pp. 2495-2498
DOI: 10.1126/science.1060281

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Abstract

Spirochetes from termite hindguts and freshwater sediments possessed homologs of a nitrogenase gene (nifH) and exhibited nitrogenase activity, a previously unrecognized metabolic capability in spirochetes. Fixation of 15-dinitrogen was demonstrated with termite gut Treponema ZAS-9 and free-livingSpirochaeta aurantia. Homologs of nifH were also present in human oral and bovine ruminal treponemes. Results implicate spirochetes in the nitrogen nutrition of termites, whose food is typically low in nitrogen, and in global nitrogen cycling. These results also proffer spirochetes as a likely origin of certainnifHs observed in termite guts and other environments that were not previously attributable to known microbes.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed: E-mail: breznak{at}msu.edu

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