Reversibility of citrate synthase allows autotrophic growth of a thermophilic bacterium

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Science  02 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6375, pp. 563-567
DOI: 10.1126/science.aao2410

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


Biological inorganic carbon fixation proceeds through a number of fundamentally different autotrophic pathways that are defined by specific key enzymatic reactions. Detection of the enzymatic genes in (meta)genomes is widely used to estimate the contribution of individual organisms or communities to primary production. Here we show that the sulfur-reducing anaerobic deltaproteobacterium Desulfurella acetivorans is capable of both acetate oxidation and autotrophic carbon fixation, with the tricarboxylic acid cycle operating either in the oxidative or reductive direction, respectively. Under autotrophic conditions, the enzyme citrate synthase cleaves citrate adenosine triphosphate independently into acetyl coenzyme A and oxaloacetate, a reaction that has been regarded as impossible under physiological conditions. Because this overlooked, energetically efficient carbon fixation pathway lacks key enzymes, it may function unnoticed in many organisms, making bioinformatical predictions difficult, if not impossible.

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