A primordial and reversible TCA cycle in a facultatively chemolithoautotrophic thermophile

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Science  02 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6375, pp. 559-563
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao3407

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About-face for citrate synthase

Classically, it is thought that citrate synthase only works in one direction: to catalyze the production of citrate from acetyl coenzyme A and oxaloacetate in the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle. The TCA cycle can run in reverse to cleave citrate and fix carbon dioxide autotrophically, but this was thought to occur only with alternative enzymes, such as citrate lyase. Now Nunoura et al. and Mall et al. have discovered thermophilic bacteria with highly efficient and reversible citrate synthase that requires reduced ferredoxin (see the Perspective by Ragsdale). This function is undetectable by metagenomics, but classical biochemistry filled in the gaps seen between the genome sequences and the phenotypes of the organisms. The direction of catalysis depends on the availability of organic versus inorganic carbon and reflects a flexible bet-hedging strategy for survival in fluctuating environments. In evolutionary terms, this capacity might predate the classical TCA cycle and is likely to occur in a wide range of anaerobic microorganisms.

Science, this issue p. 559, p. 563; see also p. 517


Inorganic carbon fixation is essential to sustain life on Earth, and the reductive tricarboxylic acid (rTCA) cycle is one of the most ancient carbon fixation metabolisms. A combination of genomic, enzymatic, and metabolomic analyses of a deeply branching chemolithotrophic Thermosulfidibacter takaii ABI70S6T revealed a previously unknown reversible TCA cycle whose direction was controlled by the available carbon source(s). Under a chemolithoautotrophic condition, a rTCA cycle occurred with the reverse reaction of citrate synthase (CS) and not with the adenosine 5′-triphosphate–dependent citrate cleavage reactions that had been regarded as essential for the conventional rTCA cycle. Phylometabolic evaluation suggests that the TCA cycle with reversible CS may represent an ancestral mode of the rTCA cycle and raises the possibility of a facultatively chemolithomixotrophic origin of life.

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