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1.  Increasing the metabolic capacity of Escherichia coli for hydrogen production through heterologous expression of the Ralstonia eutropha SH operon 
Fermentative hydrogen production is an attractive means for the sustainable production of this future energy carrier but is hampered by low yields. One possible solution is to create, using metabolic engineering, strains which can bypass the normal metabolic limits to substrate conversion to hydrogen. Escherichia coli can degrade a variety of sugars to hydrogen but can only convert electrons available at the pyruvate node to hydrogen, and is unable to use the electrons available in NADH generated during glycolysis.
Here, the heterologous expression of the soluble [NiFe] hydrogenase from Ralstonia eutropha H16 (the SH hydrogenase) was used to demonstrate the introduction of a pathway capable of deriving substantial hydrogen from the NADH generated by fermentation. Successful expression was demonstrated by in vitro assay of enzyme activity. Moreover, expression of SH restored anaerobic growth on glucose to adhE strains, normally blocked for growth due to the inability to re-oxidize NADH. Measurement of in vivo hydrogen production showed that several metabolically engineered strains were capable of using the SH hydrogenase to derive 2 mol H2 per mol of glucose consumed, close to the theoretical maximum.
Previous introduction of heterologous [NiFe] hydrogenase in E. coli led to NAD(P)H dependent activity, but hydrogen production levels were very low. Here we have shown for the first time substantial in vivo hydrogen production by a heterologously expressed [NiFe] hydrogenase, the soluble NAD-dependent H2ase of R. eutropha (SH hydrogenase). This hydrogenase was able to couple metabolically generated NADH to hydrogen production, thus rescuing an alcohol dehydrogenase (adhE) mutant. This enlarges the range of metabolism available for hydrogen production, thus potentially opening the door to the creation of greatly improved hydrogen production. Strategies for further increasing yields should revolve around making additional NADH available.
PMCID: PMC3765991  PMID: 23977944
Biohydrogen; Metabolic engineering; Heterologous expression; Hydrogen production from NADH
2.  Novel, Oxygen-Insensitive Group 5 [NiFe]-Hydrogenase in Ralstonia eutropha 
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2013;79(17):5137-5145.
Recently, a novel group of [NiFe]-hydrogenases has been defined that appear to have a great impact in the global hydrogen cycle. This so-called group 5 [NiFe]-hydrogenase is widespread in soil-living actinobacteria and can oxidize molecular hydrogen at atmospheric levels, which suggests a high affinity of the enzyme toward H2. Here, we provide a biochemical characterization of a group 5 hydrogenase from the betaproteobacterium Ralstonia eutropha H16. The hydrogenase was designated an actinobacterial hydrogenase (AH) and is catalytically active, as shown by the in vivo H2 uptake and by activity staining in native gels. However, the enzyme does not sustain autotrophic growth on H2. The AH was purified to homogeneity by affinity chromatography and consists of two subunits with molecular masses of 65 and 37 kDa. Among the electron acceptors tested, nitroblue tetrazolium chloride was reduced by the AH at highest rates. At 30°C and pH 8, the specific activity of the enzyme was 0.3 μmol of H2 per min and mg of protein. However, an unexpectedly high Michaelis constant (Km) for H2 of 3.6 ± 0.5 μM was determined, which is in contrast to the previously proposed low Km of group 5 hydrogenases and makes atmospheric H2 uptake by R. eutropha most unlikely. Amperometric activity measurements revealed that the AH maintains full H2 oxidation activity even at atmospheric oxygen concentrations, showing that the enzyme is insensitive toward O2.
PMCID: PMC3753944  PMID: 23793632
3.  Involvement of hyp Gene Products in Maturation of the H2-Sensing [NiFe] Hydrogenase of Ralstonia eutropha 
Journal of Bacteriology  2001;183(24):7087-7093.
The biosynthesis of [NiFe] hydrogenases is a complex process that requires the function of the Hyp proteins HypA, HypB, HypC, HypD, HypE, HypF, and HypX for assembly of the H2-activating [NiFe] site. In this study we examined the maturation of the regulatory hydrogenase (RH) of Ralstonia eutropha. The RH is a H2-sensing [NiFe] hydrogenase and is required as a constituent of a signal transduction chain for the expression of two energy-linked [NiFe] hydrogenases. Here we demonstrate that the RH regulatory activity was barely affected by mutations in hypA, hypB, hypC, and hypX and was not substantially diminished in hypD- and hypE-deficient strains. The lack of HypF, however, resulted in a 90% decrease of the RH regulatory activity. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and the incorporation of 63Ni into the RH from overproducing cells revealed that the assembly of the [NiFe] active site is dependent on all Hyp functions, with the exception of HypX. We conclude that the entire Hyp apparatus (HypA, HypB, HypC, HypD, HypE, and HypF) is involved in an efficient incorporation of the [NiFe] center into the RH.
PMCID: PMC95556  PMID: 11717266
4.  A hydrogen-sensing system in transcriptional regulation of hydrogenase gene expression in Alcaligenes species. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1997;179(5):1655-1663.
Heterologous complementation studies using Alcaligenes eutrophus H16 as a recipient identified a hydrogenase-specific regulatory DNA region on megaplasmid pHG21-a of the related species Alcaligenes hydrogenophilus. Nucleotide sequence analysis revealed four open reading frames on the subcloned DNA, designated hoxA, hoxB, hoxC, and hoxJ. The product of hoxA is homologous to a transcriptional activator of the family of two-component regulatory systems present in a number of H2-oxidizing bacteria. hoxB and hoxC predict polypeptides of 34.5 and 52.5 kDa, respectively, which resemble the small and the large subunits of [NiFe] hydrogenases and correlate with putative regulatory proteins of Bradyrhizobium japonicum (HupU and HupV) and Rhodobacter capsulatus (HupU). hoxJ encodes a protein with typical consensus motifs of histidine protein kinases. Introduction of the complete set of genes on a broad-host-range plasmid into A. eutrophus H16 caused severe repression of soluble and membrane-bound hydrogenase (SH and MBH, respectively) synthesis in the absence of H2. This repression was released by truncation of hoxJ. H2-dependent hydrogenase gene transcription is a typical feature of A. hydrogenophilus and differs from the energy and carbon source-responding, H2-independent mode of control characteristic of A. eutrophus H16. Disruption of the A. hydrogenophilus hoxJ gene by an in-frame deletion on megaplasmid pHG21-a led to conversion of the regulatory phenotype: SH and MBH of the mutant were expressed in the absence of H2 in response to the availability of the carbon and energy source. RNA dot blot analysis showed that HoxJ functions on the transcriptional level. These results suggest that the putative histidine protein kinase HoxJ is involved in sensing molecular hydrogen, possibly in conjunction with the hydrogenase-like polypeptides HoxB and HoxC.
PMCID: PMC178879  PMID: 9045826
5.  Production of biohydrogen by recombinant expression of [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 in Escherichia coli 
Hydrogenases catalyze reversible reaction between hydrogen (H2) and proton. Inactivation of hydrogenase by exposure to oxygen is a critical limitation in biohydrogen production since strict anaerobic conditions are required. While [FeFe]-hydrogenases are irreversibly inactivated by oxygen, it was known that [NiFe]-hydrogenases are generally more tolerant to oxygen. The physiological function of [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 is still ambiguous. We herein investigated the H2 production potential of [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 of Escherichia coli in vivo and in vitro. The hyaA and hyaB genes corresponding to the small and large subunits of [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 core enzyme, respectively, were expressed in BL21, an E. coli strain without H2 producing ability.
Recombinant BL21 expressing [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 actively produced H2 (12.5 mL H2/(h·L) in 400 mL glucose minimal medium under micro-aerobic condition, whereas the wild type BL21 did not produce H2 even when formate was added as substrate for formate hydrogenlyase (FHL) pathway. The majority of recombinant protein was produced as an insoluble form, with translocation of a small fraction to the membrane. However, the membrane fraction displayed high activity (~65% of total cell fraction), based on unit protein mass. Supplement of nickel and iron to media showed these metals contribute essentially to the function of [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 as components of catalytic site. In addition, purified E. coli [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 using his6-tag displayed oxygen-tolerant activity of ~12 nmol H2/(min·mg protein) under a normal aeration environment, compared to [FeFe]-hydrogenase, which remains inactive under this condition.
This is the first report on physiological function of E. coli [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 for H2 production. We found that [NiFe]-hydrogenase 1 has H2 production ability even under the existence of oxygen. This oxygen-tolerant property is a significant advantage because it is not necessary to protect the H2 production process from oxygen. Therefore, we propose that [NiFe]-hydrogenase can be successfully applied as an efficient biohydrogen production tool under micro-aerobic conditions.
PMCID: PMC2908566  PMID: 20604966
6.  De novo modeling of the F420-reducing [NiFe]-hydrogenase from a methanogenic archaeon by cryo-electron microscopy 
eLife  2013;2:e00218.
Methanogenic archaea use a [NiFe]-hydrogenase, Frh, for oxidation/reduction of F420, an important hydride carrier in the methanogenesis pathway from H2 and CO2. Frh accounts for about 1% of the cytoplasmic protein and forms a huge complex consisting of FrhABG heterotrimers with each a [NiFe] center, four Fe-S clusters and an FAD. Here, we report the structure determined by near-atomic resolution cryo-EM of Frh with and without bound substrate F420. The polypeptide chains of FrhB, for which there was no homolog, was traced de novo from the EM map. The 1.2-MDa complex contains 12 copies of the heterotrimer, which unexpectedly form a spherical protein shell with a hollow core. The cryo-EM map reveals strong electron density of the chains of metal clusters running parallel to the protein shell, and the F420-binding site is located at the end of the chain near the outside of the spherical structure.
eLife digest
Many microbes grow by producing methane gas from carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas, and enzymes known as hydrogenases play important roles in this metabolic process. The production of methane in these microbes depends on a nickel–iron hydrogenase called Frh adding electrons to a coenzyme called F420. This hydrogenase cleaves a hydrogen molecule into two electrons, which are transferred to the F420 coenzyme, and two protons. The reduced form of F420 is then used for several reactions in the methane production process. This process, which is known as methanogenesis, provides the microbes with energy.
Nickel–iron hydrogenases can be divided into five different groups, but researchers have been able to determine the detailed structures of the enzymes in just one of these groups. All nickel–iron hydrogenases contain at least two subunits: a large subunit with a catalytic center composed of both nickel and iron ions and a small subunit that contains three iron–sulfur clusters. Frh—which is short for F420-reducing nickel–iron hydrogenase—is known to have a third subunit comprising an extra iron–sulfur cluster and a coenzyme called FAD that allows it to interact with the F420 coenzyme. However, until now, little was known about the detailed structure of the Frh enzyme.
Mills et al. have used electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) to determine the structure of Frh when it is on its own, and also when it is bound to F420. This technique involves freezing a solution of the enzyme in a thin layer of ice and recording an image of this layer in an electron microscope. By combining a large number of images, each of which contains many identical enzymes in different orientations, it is possible to determine the 3-dimensional structure of the enzyme.
Mills et al. found that Frh forms a very large tetrahedral complex that contains six Frh dimers. And by comparing the structure with and without F420, they identify a pocket near the FAD coenzyme that the F420 coenzyme binds to. They also identify a fold in the third subunit that allows proteins to bind both FAD and F420. The work demonstrates the potential of cryo-EM to elucidate structures that cannot be determined by other approaches.
PMCID: PMC3591093  PMID: 23483797
Methanothermobacter marburgensis; cryo-electron microscopy; methanogenesis; hydrogenase; Other
7.  Regulation of Uptake Hydrogenase and Effects of Hydrogen Utilization on Gene Expression in Rhodopseudomonas palustris 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(17):6143-6152.
Rhodopseudomonas palustris is a purple, facultatively phototrophic bacterium that uses hydrogen gas as an electron donor for carbon dioxide fixation during photoautotrophic growth or for ammonia synthesis during nitrogen fixation. It also uses hydrogen as an electron supplement to enable the complete assimilation of oxidized carbon compounds, such as malate, into cell material during photoheterotrophic growth. The R. palustris genome predicts a membrane-bound nickel-iron uptake hydrogenase and several regulatory proteins to control hydrogenase synthesis. There is also a novel sensor kinase gene (RPA0981) directly adjacent to the hydrogenase gene cluster. Here we show that the R. palustris regulatory sensor hydrogenase HupUV acts in conjunction with the sensor kinase-response regulator protein pair HoxJ-HoxA to activate hydrogenase expression in response to hydrogen gas. Transcriptome analysis indicated that the HupUV-HoxJA regulatory system also controls the expression of genes encoding a predicted dicarboxylic acid transport system, a putative formate transporter, and a glutamine synthetase. RPA0981 had a small effect in repressing hydrogenase synthesis. We also determined that the two-component system RegS-RegR repressed expression of the uptake hydrogenase, probably in response to changes in intracellular redox status. Transcriptome analysis indicated that about 30 genes were differentially expressed in R. palustris cells that utilized hydrogen when growing photoheterotrophically on malate under nitrogen-fixing conditions compared to a mutant strain that lacked uptake hydrogenase. From this it appears that the recycling of reductant in the form of hydrogen does not have extensive nonspecific effects on gene expression in R. palustris.
PMCID: PMC1595397  PMID: 16923881
8.  Dual role of HupF in the biosynthesis of [NiFe] hydrogenase in Rhizobium leguminosarum 
BMC Microbiology  2012;12:256.
[NiFe] hydrogenases are enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of hydrogen into protons and electrons, to use H2 as energy source, or the production of hydrogen through proton reduction, as an escape valve for the excess of reduction equivalents in anaerobic metabolism. Biosynthesis of [NiFe] hydrogenases is a complex process that occurs in the cytoplasm, where a number of auxiliary proteins are required to synthesize and insert the metal cofactors into the enzyme structural units. The endosymbiotic bacterium Rhizobium leguminosarum requires the products of eighteen genes (hupSLCDEFGHIJKhypABFCDEX) to synthesize an active hydrogenase. hupF and hupK genes are found only in hydrogenase clusters from bacteria expressing hydrogenase in the presence of oxygen.
HupF is a HypC paralogue with a similar predicted structure, except for the C-terminal domain present only in HupF. Deletion of hupF results in the inability to process the hydrogenase large subunit HupL, and also in reduced stability of this subunit when cells are exposed to high oxygen tensions. A ΔhupF mutant was fully complemented for hydrogenase activity by a C-terminal deletion derivative under symbiotic, ultra low-oxygen tensions, but only partial complementation was observed in free living cells under higher oxygen tensions (1% or 3%). Co-purification experiments using StrepTag-labelled HupF derivatives and mass spectrometry analysis indicate the existence of a major complex involving HupL and HupF, and a less abundant HupF-HupK complex.
The results indicate that HupF has a dual role during hydrogenase biosynthesis: it is required for hydrogenase large subunit processing and it also acts as a chaperone to stabilize HupL when hydrogenase is synthesized in the presence of oxygen.
PMCID: PMC3534401  PMID: 23136881
Metalloenzyme; [NiFe] cofactor; Nitrogen fixation; Hydrogenase
9.  Functional Analysis by Site-Directed Mutagenesis of the NAD+-Reducing Hydrogenase from Ralstonia eutropha 
Journal of Bacteriology  2002;184(22):6280-6288.
The tetrameric cytoplasmic [NiFe] hydrogenase (SH) of Ralstonia eutropha couples the oxidation of hydrogen to the reduction of NAD+ under aerobic conditions. In the catalytic subunit HoxH, all six conserved motifs surrounding the [NiFe] site are present. Five of these motifs were altered by site-directed mutagenesis in order to dissect the molecular mechanism of hydrogen activation. Based on phenotypic characterizations, 27 mutants were grouped into four different classes. Mutants of the major class, class I, failed to grow on hydrogen and were devoid of H2-oxidizing activity. In one of these isolates (HoxH I64A), H2 binding was impaired. Class II mutants revealed a high D2/H+ exchange rate relative to a low H2-oxidizing activity. A representative (HoxH H16L) displayed D2/H+ exchange but had lost electron acceptor-reducing activity. Both activities were equally affected in class III mutants. Mutants forming class IV showed a particularly interesting phenotype. They displayed O2-sensitive growth on hydrogen due to an O2-sensitive SH protein.
PMCID: PMC151951  PMID: 12399498
10.  HupO, a Novel Regulator Involved in Thiosulfate-Responsive Control of HupSL [NiFe]-Hydrogenase Synthesis in Thiocapsa roseopersicina 
[NiFe]-hydrogenases are regulated by various factors to fulfill their physiological functions in bacterial cells. The photosynthetic purple sulfur bacterium Thiocapsa roseopersicina harbors four functional [NiFe]-hydrogenases: HynSL, HupSL, Hox1, and Hox2. Most of these hydrogenases are functionally linked to sulfur metabolism, and thiosulfate has a central role in this organism. The membrane-associated Hup hydrogenases have been shown to play a role in energy conservation through hydrogen recycling. The expression of Hup-type hydrogenases is regulated by H2 in Rhodobacter capsulatus and Cupriavidus necator; however, it has been shown that the corresponding hydrogen-sensing system is nonfunctional in T. roseopersicina and that thiosulfate is a regulating factor of hup expression. Here, we describe the discovery and analysis of mutants of a putative regulator (HupO) of the Hup hydrogenase in T. roseopersicina. HupO appears to mediate the transcriptional repression of Hup enzyme synthesis under low-thiosulfate conditions. We also demonstrate that the presence of the Hox1 hydrogenase strongly influences Hup enzyme synthesis in that hup expression was decreased significantly in the hox1 mutant. This reduction in Hup synthesis could be reversed by mutation of hupO, which resulted in strongly elevated hup expression, as well as Hup protein levels, and concomitant in vivo hydrogen uptake activity in the hox1 mutant. However, this regulatory control was observed only at low thiosulfate concentrations. Additionally, weak hydrogen-dependent hup expression was shown in the hupO mutant strain lacking the Hox1 hydrogenase. HupO-mediated Hup regulation therefore appears to link thiosulfate metabolism and the hydrogenase network in T. roseopersicina.
PMCID: PMC4807519  PMID: 26801573
11.  Heterologous Expression and Maturation of an NADP-Dependent [NiFe]-Hydrogenase: A Key Enzyme in Biofuel Production 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(5):e10526.
Hydrogen gas is a major biofuel and is metabolized by a wide range of microorganisms. Microbial hydrogen production is catalyzed by hydrogenase, an extremely complex, air-sensitive enzyme that utilizes a binuclear nickel-iron [NiFe] catalytic site. Production and engineering of recombinant [NiFe]-hydrogenases in a genetically-tractable organism, as with metalloprotein complexes in general, has met with limited success due to the elaborate maturation process that is required, primarily in the absence of oxygen, to assemble the catalytic center and functional enzyme. We report here the successful production in Escherichia coli of the recombinant form of a cytoplasmic, NADP-dependent hydrogenase from Pyrococcus furiosus, an anaerobic hyperthermophile. This was achieved using novel expression vectors for the co-expression of thirteen P. furiosus genes (four structural genes encoding the hydrogenase and nine encoding maturation proteins). Remarkably, the native E. coli maturation machinery will also generate a functional hydrogenase when provided with only the genes encoding the hydrogenase subunits and a single protease from P. furiosus. Another novel feature is that their expression was induced by anaerobic conditions, whereby E. coli was grown aerobically and production of recombinant hydrogenase was achieved by simply changing the gas feed from air to an inert gas (N2). The recombinant enzyme was purified and shown to be functionally similar to the native enzyme purified from P. furiosus. The methodology to generate this key hydrogen-producing enzyme has dramatic implications for the production of hydrogen and NADPH as vehicles for energy storage and transport, for engineering hydrogenase to optimize production and catalysis, as well as for the general production of complex, oxygen-sensitive metalloproteins.
PMCID: PMC2865534  PMID: 20463892
12.  Dual organism design cycle reveals small subunit substitutions that improve [NiFe] hydrogenase hydrogen evolution 
Photosynthetic microorganisms that directly channel solar energy to the production of molecular hydrogen are a potential future biofuel system. Building such a system requires installation of a hydrogenase in the photosynthetic organism that is both tolerant to oxygen and capable of hydrogen production. Toward this end, we have identified the [NiFe] hydrogenase from the marine bacterium Alteromonas macleodii “Deep ecotype” that is able to be heterologously expressed in cyanobacteria and has tolerance to partial oxygen. The A. macleodii enzyme shares sequence similarity with the uptake hydrogenases that favor hydrogen uptake activity over hydrogen evolution. To improve hydrogen evolution from the A. macleodii hydrogenase, we examined the three Fe-S clusters found in the small subunit of many [NiFe] uptake hydrogenases that presumably act as a molecular wire to guide electrons to or from the active site of the enzyme. Studies by others altering the medial cluster of a Desulfovibrio fructosovorans hydrogenase from 3Fe-4S to 4Fe-4S resulted in two-fold improved hydrogen evolution activity.
We adopted a strategy of screening for improved hydrogenase constructs using an Escherichia coli expression system before testing in slower growing cyanobacteria. From the A. macleodii enzyme, we created a mutation in the gene encoding the hydrogenase small subunit that in other systems is known to convert the 3Fe-4S medial cluster to 4Fe-4S. The medial cluster substitution did not improve the hydrogen evolution activity of our hydrogenase. However, modifying both the medial cluster and the ligation of the distal Fe-S cluster improved in vitro hydrogen evolution activity relative to the wild type hydrogenase by three- to four-fold. Other properties of the enzyme including thermostability and tolerance to partial oxygen did not appear to be affected by the substitutions.
Our results show that substitution of amino acids altering the ligation of Fe-S clusters in the A. macleodii [NiFe] uptake hydrogenase resulted in increased hydrogen evolution activity. This activity can be recapitulated in multiple host systems and with purified protein. These results validate the approach of using an E. coli-cyanobacteria shuttle system for enzyme expression and improvement.
PMCID: PMC3701524  PMID: 23819621
Hydrogenase; Cyanobacteria; Iron-sulfur Cluster; Alteromonas Macleodii “Deep Ecotype”
13.  Delivery of Iron-Sulfur Clusters to the Hydrogen-Oxidizing [NiFe]-Hydrogenases in Escherichia coli Requires the A-Type Carrier Proteins ErpA and IscA 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31755.
During anaerobic growth Escherichia coli synthesizes two membrane-associated hydrogen-oxidizing [NiFe]-hydrogenases, termed hydrogenase 1 and hydrogenase 2. Each enzyme comprises a catalytic subunit containing the [NiFe] cofactor, an electron-transferring small subunit with a particular complement of [Fe-S] (iron-sulfur) clusters and a membrane-anchor subunit. How the [Fe-S] clusters are delivered to the small subunit of these enzymes is unclear. A-type carrier (ATC) proteins of the Isc (iron-sulfur-cluster) and Suf (sulfur mobilization) [Fe-S] cluster biogenesis pathways are proposed to traffic pre-formed [Fe-S] clusters to apoprotein targets. Mutants that could not synthesize SufA had active hydrogenase 1 and hydrogenase 2 enzymes, thus demonstrating that the Suf machinery is not required for hydrogenase maturation. In contrast, mutants devoid of the IscA, ErpA or IscU proteins of the Isc machinery had no detectable hydrogenase 1 or 2 activities. Lack of activity of both enzymes correlated with the absence of the respective [Fe-S]-cluster-containing small subunit, which was apparently rapidly degraded. During biosynthesis the hydrogenase large subunits receive their [NiFe] cofactor from the Hyp maturation machinery. Subsequent to cofactor insertion a specific C-terminal processing step occurs before association of the large subunit with the small subunit. This processing step is independent of small subunit maturation. Using western blotting experiments it could be shown that although the amount of each hydrogenase large subunit was strongly reduced in the iscA and erpA mutants, some maturation of the large subunit still occurred. Moreover, in contrast to the situation in Isc-proficient strains, these processed large subunits were not membrane-associated. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that both IscA and ErpA are required for [Fe-S] cluster delivery to the small subunits of the hydrogen-oxidizing hydrogenases; however, delivery of the Fe atom to the active site might have different requirements.
PMCID: PMC3283652  PMID: 22363723
14.  [NiFe] Hydrogenase from Alteromonas macleodii with Unusual Stability in the Presence of Oxygen and High Temperature ▿ †  
Hydrogenases are enzymes involved in the bioproduction of hydrogen, a clean alternative energy source whose combustion generates water as the only end product. In this article we identified and characterized a [NiFe] hydrogenase from the marine bacterium Alteromonas macleodii “deep ecotype” with unusual stability toward oxygen and high temperature. The A. macleodii hydrogenase (HynSL) can catalyze both H2 evolution and H2 uptake reactions. HynSL was expressed in A. macleodii under aerobic conditions and reached the maximum activity when the cells entered the late exponential phase. The higher level of hydrogenase activity was accompanied by a greater abundance of the HynSL protein in the late-log or stationary phase. The addition of nickel to the growth medium significantly enhanced the hydrogenase activity. Ni treatment affected the level of the protein, but not the mRNA, indicating that the effect of Ni was exerted at the posttranscriptional level. Hydrogenase activity was distributed ∼30% in the membrane fraction and ∼70% in the cytoplasmic fraction. Thus, HynSL appears to be loosely membrane-bound. Partially purified A. macleodii hydrogenase demonstrated extraordinary stability. It retained 84% of its activity after exposure to 80°C for 2 h. After exposure to air for 45 days at 4°C, it retained nearly 100% of its activity when assayed under anaerobic conditions. Its catalytic activity in the presence of O2 was evaluated by the hydrogen-deuterium (H-D) exchange assay. In 1% O2, 20.4% of its H-D exchange activity was retained. The great stability of HynSL makes it a potential candidate for biotechnological applications.
PMCID: PMC3067314  PMID: 21257809
15.  Selenium Is Involved in Regulation of Periplasmic Hydrogenase Gene Expression in Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough 
Journal of Bacteriology  2006;188(9):3228-3235.
Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough is a good model organism to study hydrogen metabolism in sulfate-reducing bacteria. Hydrogen is a key compound for these organisms, since it is one of their major energy sources in natural habitats and also an intermediate in the energy metabolism. The D. vulgaris Hildenborough genome codes for six different hydrogenases, but only three of them, the periplasmic-facing [FeFe], [FeNi]1, and [FeNiSe] hydrogenases, are usually detected. In this work, we studied the synthesis of each of these enzymes in response to different electron donors and acceptors for growth as well as in response to the availability of Ni and Se. The formation of the three hydrogenases was not very strongly affected by the electron donors or acceptors used, but the highest levels were observed after growth with hydrogen as electron donor and lowest with thiosulfate as electron acceptor. The major effect observed was with inclusion of Se in the growth medium, which led to a strong repression of the [FeFe] and [NiFe]1 hydrogenases and a strong increase in the [NiFeSe] hydrogenase that is not detected in the absence of Se. Ni also led to increased formation of the [NiFe]1 hydrogenase, except for growth with H2, where its synthesis is very high even without Ni added to the medium. Growth with H2 results in a strong increase in the soluble forms of the [NiFe]1 and [NiFeSe] hydrogenases. This study is an important contribution to understanding why D. vulgaris Hildenborough has three periplasmic hydrogenases. It supports their similar physiological role in H2 oxidation and reveals that element availability has a strong influence in their relative expression.
PMCID: PMC1447438  PMID: 16621815
16.  Characterization of Genes Responsible for the CO-Linked Hydrogen Production Pathway in Rubrivivax gelatinosus▿  
Applied and Environmental Microbiology  2010;76(11):3715-3722.
Upon exposure to carbon monoxide, the purple nonsulfur photosynthetic bacterium Rubrivivax gelatinosus produces hydrogen concomitantly with the oxidation of CO according to the equation CO + H2O ↔ CO2 + H2. Yet little is known about the genetic elements encoding this reaction in this organism. In the present study, we use transposon mutagenesis and functional complementation to uncover three clustered genes, cooL, cooX, and cooH, in Rubrivivax gelatinosus putatively encoding part of a membrane-bound, multisubunit NiFe-hydrogenase. We present the complete amino acid sequences for the large catalytic subunit and its electron-relaying small subunit, encoded by cooH and cooL, respectively. Sequence alignment reveals a conserved region in the large subunit coordinating a binuclear [NiFe] center and a conserved region in the small subunit coordinating a [4Fe-4S] cluster. Protein purification experiments show that a protein fraction of 58 kDa molecular mass could function in H2 evolution mediated by reduced methyl viologen. Western blotting experiments show that the two hydrogenase subunits are detectable and accumulate only when cells are exposed to CO. The cooX gene encodes a putative Fe-S protein mediating electron transfer to the hydrogenase small subunit. We conclude that these three Rubrivivax proteins encompass part of a membrane-bound, multisubunit NiFe-hydrogenase belonging to the energy-converting hydrogenase (Ech) type, which has been found among diverse microbes with a common feature in coupling H2 production with proton pumping for energy generation.
PMCID: PMC2876465  PMID: 20400563
17.  Ralstonia eutropha TF93 Is Blocked in Tat-Mediated Protein Export 
Journal of Bacteriology  2000;182(3):581-588.
Ralstonia eutropha (formerly Alcaligenes eutrophus) TF93 is pleiotropically affected in the translocation of redox enzymes synthesized with an N-terminal signal peptide bearing a twin arginine (S/T-R-R-X-F-L-K) motif. Immunoblot analyses showed that the catalytic subunits of the membrane-bound [NiFe] hydrogenase (MBH) and the molybdenum cofactor-binding periplasmic nitrate reductase (Nap) are mislocalized to the cytoplasm and to the inner membrane, respectively. Moreover, physiological studies showed that the copper-containing nitrous oxide reductase (NosZ) was also not translocated to the periplasm in strain TF93. The cellular localization of enzymes exported by the general secretion system was unaffected. The translocation-arrested MBH and Nap proteins were enzymatically active, suggesting that twin-arginine signal peptide-dependent redox enzymes may have their cofactors inserted prior to transmembrane export. The periplasmic destination of MBH, Nap, and NosZ was restored by heterologous expression of Azotobacter chroococcum tatA mobilized into TF93. tatA encodes a bacterial Hcf106-like protein, a component of a novel protein transport system that has been characterized in thylakoids and shown to translocate folded proteins across the membrane.
PMCID: PMC94318  PMID: 10633089
18.  The respiratory molybdo-selenoprotein formate dehydrogenases of Escherichia coli have hydrogen: benzyl viologen oxidoreductase activity 
BMC Microbiology  2011;11:173.
Escherichia coli synthesizes three membrane-bound molybdenum- and selenocysteine-containing formate dehydrogenases, as well as up to four membrane-bound [NiFe]-hydrogenases. Two of the formate dehydrogenases (Fdh-N and Fdh-O) and two of the hydrogenases (Hyd-1 and Hyd-2) have their respective catalytic subunits located in the periplasm and these enzymes have been shown previously to oxidize formate and hydrogen, respectively, and thus function in energy metabolism. Mutants unable to synthesize the [NiFe]-hydrogenases retain a H2: benzyl viologen oxidoreductase activity. The aim of this study was to identify the enzyme or enzymes responsible for this activity.
Here we report the identification of a new H2: benzyl viologen oxidoreductase enzyme activity in E. coli that is independent of the [NiFe]-hydrogenases. This enzyme activity was originally identified after non-denaturing polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and visualization of hydrogen-oxidizing activity by specific staining. Analysis of a crude extract derived from a variety of E. coli mutants unable to synthesize any [NiFe]-hydrogenase-associated enzyme activity revealed that the mutants retained this specific hydrogen-oxidizing activity. Enrichment of this enzyme activity from solubilised membrane fractions of the hydrogenase-negative mutant FTD147 by ion-exchange, hydrophobic interaction and size-exclusion chromatographies followed by mass spectrometric analysis identified the enzymes Fdh-N and Fdh-O. Analysis of defined mutants devoid of selenocysteine biosynthetic capacity or carrying deletions in the genes encoding the catalytic subunits of Fdh-N and Fdh-O demonstrated that both enzymes catalyze hydrogen activation. Fdh-N and Fdh-O can also transfer the electrons derived from oxidation of hydrogen to other redox dyes.
The related respiratory molybdo-selenoproteins Fdh-N and Fdh-O of Escherichia coli have hydrogen-oxidizing activity. These findings demonstrate that the energy-conserving selenium- and molybdenum-dependent formate dehydrogenases Fdh-N and Fdh-O exhibit a degree of promiscuity with respect to the electron donor they use and identify a new class of dihydrogen-oxidizing enzyme.
PMCID: PMC3160892  PMID: 21806784
19.  Enhanced Oxygen-Tolerance of the Full Heterotrimeric Membrane-Bound [NiFe]-Hydrogenase of Ralstonia eutropha 
Hydrogenases are oxygen-sensitive enzymes that catalyze the conversion between protons and hydrogen. Water-soluble subcomplexes of membrane-bound [NiFe]-hydrogenases (MBH) have been extensively studied for applications in hydrogen–oxygen fuel cells as they are relatively tolerant to oxygen, although even these catalysts are still inactivated in oxidative conditions. Here, the full heterotrimeric MBH of Ralstonia eutropha, including the membrane-integral cytochrome b subunit, was investigated electrochemically using electrodes modified with planar tethered bilayer lipid membranes (tBLM). Cyclic voltammetry and chronoamperometry experiments show that MBH, in equilibrium with the quinone pool in the tBLM, does not anaerobically inactivate under oxidative redox conditions. In aerobic environments, the MBH is reversibly inactivated by O2, but reactivation was found to be fast even under oxidative redox conditions. This enhanced resistance to inactivation is ascribed to the oligomeric state of MBH in the lipid membrane.
PMCID: PMC4073834  PMID: 24866391
20.  Nickel affects expression of the nickel-containing hydrogenase of Alcaligenes latus. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1988;170(9):3891-3896.
The effects of nickel on the expression of hydrogenase in the hydrogen-oxidizing bacterium Alcaligenes latus were studied. In the absence of added nickel, both hydrogenase activity, measured as O2-dependent H2 uptake, and hydrogenase protein, measured in a Western immunoblot, were very low compared with the levels in cells induced for hydrogenase in the presence of nickel. Hydrogenase activity and protein levels were dependent on the added nickel concentration and were saturated at 30 nM added Ni2+. The amount of hydrogenase protein in a culture at a given nickel concentration was calculated from the H2 uptake activity of the culture at that Ni2+ concentration. Between 0 and 30 nM added Ni2+, the amount of hydrogenase protein (in nanomoles) was stoichiometric with the amount of added Ni2+. Thus, all of the added Ni2+ could be accounted for in hydrogenase. Between 0 and 50 nM added Ni2+, all the Ni present in the cultures was associated with the cells after 12 h; above 50 nM added Ni2+, some Ni remained in the medium. No other divalent metal cations tested were able to substitute for Ni2+ in the formation of active hydrogenase. We suggest two possible mechanisms for the regulation of hydrogenase activity and protein levels by nickel.
PMCID: PMC211386  PMID: 3045080
21.  Catalytic Properties of the Isolated Diaphorase Fragment of the NAD+-Reducing [NiFe]-Hydrogenase from Ralstonia eutropha 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(10):e25939.
The NAD+-reducing soluble hydrogenase (SH) from Ralstonia eutropha H16 catalyzes the H2-driven reduction of NAD+, as well as reverse electron transfer from NADH to H+, in the presence of O2. It comprises six subunits, HoxHYFUI2, and incorporates a [NiFe] H+/H2 cycling catalytic centre, two non-covalently bound flavin mononucleotide (FMN) groups and an iron-sulfur cluster relay for electron transfer. This study provides the first characterization of the diaphorase sub-complex made up of HoxF and HoxU. Sequence comparisons with the closely related peripheral subunits of Complex I in combination with UV/Vis spectroscopy and the quantification of the metal and FMN content revealed that HoxFU accommodates a [2Fe2S] cluster, FMN and a series of [4Fe4S] clusters. Protein film electrochemistry (PFE) experiments show clear electrocatalytic activity for both NAD+ reduction and NADH oxidation with minimal overpotential relative to the potential of the NAD+/NADH couple. Michaelis-Menten constants of 56 µM and 197 µM were determined for NADH and NAD+, respectively. Catalysis in both directions is product inhibited with KI values of around 0.2 mM. In PFE experiments, the electrocatalytic current was unaffected by O2, however in aerobic solution assays, a moderate superoxide production rate of 54 nmol per mg of protein was observed, meaning that the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) observed for the native SH can be attributed mainly to HoxFU. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for aerobic functioning of the SH and possible control mechanism for the direction of catalysis.
PMCID: PMC3189943  PMID: 22016788
22.  Metagenomic Sequencing Unravels Gene Fragments with Phylogenetic Signatures of O2-Tolerant NiFe Membrane-Bound Hydrogenases in Lacustrine Sediment 
Current Microbiology  2015;71(2):296-302.
Many promising hydrogen technologies utilising hydrogenase enzymes have been slowed by the fact that most hydrogenases are extremely sensitive to O2. Within the group 1 membrane-bound NiFe hydrogenase, naturally occurring tolerant enzymes do exist, and O2 tolerance has been largely attributed to changes in iron–sulphur clusters coordinated by different numbers of cysteine residues in the enzyme’s small subunit. Indeed, previous work has provided a robust phylogenetic signature of O2 tolerance [1], which when combined with new sequencing technologies makes bio prospecting in nature a far more viable endeavour. However, making sense of such a vast diversity is still challenging and could be simplified if known species with O2-tolerant enzymes were annotated with information on metabolism and natural environments. Here, we utilised a bioinformatics approach to compare O2-tolerant and sensitive membrane-bound NiFe hydrogenases from 177 bacterial species with fully sequenced genomes for differences in their taxonomy, O2 requirements, and natural environment. Following this, we interrogated a metagenome from lacustrine surface sediment for novel hydrogenases via high-throughput shotgun DNA sequencing using the Illumina™ MiSeq platform. We found 44 new NiFe group 1 membrane-bound hydrogenase sequence fragments, five of which segregated with the tolerant group on the phylogenetic tree of the enzyme’s small subunit, and four with the large subunit, indicating de novo O2-tolerant protein sequences that could help engineer more efficient hydrogenases.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00284-015-0846-2) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4486115  PMID: 26044993
23.  Nuclear resonance vibrational spectroscopy reveals the FeS cluster composition and active site vibrational properties of an O2-tolerant NAD+-reducing [NiFe] hydrogenase 
Hydrogenases are complex metalloenzymes that catalyze the reversible splitting of molecular hydrogen into protons and electrons essentially without overpotential. The NAD+-reducing soluble hydrogenase (SH) from Ralstonia eutropha is capable of H2 conversion even in the presence of usually toxic dioxygen. The molecular details of the underlying reactions are largely unknown, mainly because of limited knowledge of the structure and function the various metal cofactors present in the enzyme. Here all iron-containing cofactors of the SH were investigated by 57Fe specific nuclear resonance vibrational spectroscopy (NRVS). Our data provide experimental evidence for one [2Fe2S] center and four [4Fe4S] clusters, which is consistent with amino acid sequence composition. Only the [2Fe2S] cluster and one of the four [4Fe4S] clusters were reduced upon incubation of the SH with NADH. This finding explains the discrepancy between the large number of FeS clusters and the small amount of FeS cluster-related signals as detected by electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopic analysis of several NAD+-reducing hydrogenases. For the first time, Fe-CO and Fe-CN modes derived from the [NiFe] active site could be distinguished by NRVS through selective 13C labeling of the CO ligand. This strategy also revealed the molecular coordinates that dominate the individual Fe-CO modes. The present approach explores the complex vibrational signature of the Fe-S clusters and the hydrogenase active site, thereby showing that NRVS represents a powerful tool for the elucidation of complex biocatalysts containing multiple cofactors.
PMCID: PMC4321745  PMID: 25678951
24.  Molecular cloning of structural and regulatory hydrogenase (hox) genes of Alcaligenes eutrophus H16. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1986;168(2):636-641.
A gene bank of the 450-kilobase (kb) megaplasmid pHG1 from the hydrogen-oxidizing bacterium Alcaligenes eutrophus H16 was constructed in the broad-host-range mobilizable vector pSUP202 and maintained in Escherichia coli. hox DNA was identified by screening the E. coli gene bank for restoration of hydrogenase activity in A. eutrophus Hox mutants. Hybrid plasmids that contained an 11.6-kb EcoRI fragment restored soluble NAD-dependent hydrogenase activity when transferred by conjugation into one class of Hos- mutants. An insertion mutant impaired in particulate hydrogenase was partially restored in Hop activity by an 11-kb EcoRI fragment. A contiguous sequence of two EcoRI fragments of 8.6 and 2.0 kb generated Hox+ recombinants from mutants that were devoid of both hydrogenase proteins. hox DNA was subcloned into the vector pVK101. The resulting recombinant plasmids were used in complementation studies. The results indicate that we have cloned parts of the structural genes coding for Hos and Hop activity and a complete regulatory hox DNA sequence which encodes the thermosensitive, energy-dependent derepression signal of hydrogenase synthesis in A. eutrophus H16.
PMCID: PMC213528  PMID: 3536856
25.  Cloning and nucleotide sequences of the genes for the subunits of NAD-reducing hydrogenase of Alcaligenes eutrophus H16. 
Journal of Bacteriology  1990;172(6):2920-2929.
The genes hoxF, -U, -Y, and -H which encode the four subunit polypeptides alpha, gamma, delta, and beta of the NAD-reducing hydrogenase (HoxS) of Alcaligenes eutrophus H16, were cloned, expressed in Pseudomonas facilis, and sequenced. On the basis of the nucleotide sequence, the predicted amino acid sequences, and the N-terminal amino acid sequences, it was concluded that the structural genes are tightly linked and presumably organized as an operon, denoted hoxS. Two pairs of -24 and -12 consensus sequences resembling RpoN-activatable promoters lie upstream of hoxF, the first of the four genes. Primer extension experiments indicate that the second promoter is responsible for hoxS transcription. hoxF and hoxU code for the flavin-containing dimer (alpha and gamma subunits) of HoxS which exhibits NADH:oxidoreductase activity. A putative flavin-binding region is discussed. The 26.0-kilodalton (kDa) gamma subunit contains two cysteine clusters which may participate in the coordination of two [4F3-4S]centers. The genes hoxY and hoxH code for the small 22.9-kDa delta subunit and the nickel-containing 54.8-kDa beta subunit, respectively, of the hydrogenase dimer of HoxS. The latter dimer exhibits several conserved regions found in all nickel-containing hydrogenases. The roles of these regions in coordinating iron and nickel are discussed. Although the deduced amino acid sequences of the delta and beta subunits share some conserved regions with the corresponding polypeptides of other [NiFe] hydrogenases, the overall amino acid homology is marginal. Nevertheless, significant sequence homology (35%) to the corresponding polypeptides of the soluble methylviologen-reducing hydrogenase of Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum was found. Unlike the small subunits of the membrane-bound and soluble periplasmic hydrogenases, the HoxS protein does not appear to be synthesized with an N-terminal leader peptide.
PMCID: PMC209089  PMID: 2188945

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