Engineered Hydrogen Production in Heliobacteria using Clostridial Hydrogenase: A Probe for Understanding Cell Physiology
Heliobacteria are an anaerobic phototroph that require carbon sources such as pyruvate, <br/>lactate, or acetate for growth (Sattley, et. al. 2008). They are known for having one of the <br/>simplest phototrophic systems, the central component of which is a Type I reaction center (RC) <br/>that pumps protons to generate the electrochemical gradient for making ATP. Heliobacteria <br/>preform cyclic electron flow (CEF) with the RC in the light but can also grow chemotropically in <br/>the dark. Many anaerobes like heliobacteria, such as other members of the class Clostridia, <br/>possess the capability to produce hydrogen via a hydrogenase enzyme in the cell, as protons can <br/>serve as an electron acceptor in anaerobic metabolism. However, the species of heliobacteria <br/>studied here, H. modesticaldum have been seen to produce hydrogen via their nitrogenase <br/>enzyme but not when this enzyme is inactive. This study aimed to investigate if the reason for <br/>their lack of hydrogen production was due to a lack of an active hydrogenase enzyme, possibly <br/>indicating that the genes required for activity were lost by an H. modesticaldum ancestor. This <br/>was done by introducing genes encoding a clostridial [FeFe] hydrogenase from C. thermocellum<br/>via conjugation and measuring hydrogen production in the transformant cells. Transformant cells <br/>produced hydrogen and cells without the genes did not, meaning that the heliobacteria ferredoxin <br/>was capable of donating electrons to the foreign hydrogenase to make hydrogen. Because the <br/>[FeFe] hydrogenase must receive electrons from the cytosolic ferredoxin, it was hypothesized <br/>that hydrogen production in heliobacteria could be used to probe the redox state of the ferredoxin <br/>pool in conditions of varying electron availability. Results of this study showed that hydrogen <br/>production was affected by electron availability variations due to varying pyruvate <br/>concentrations in the media, light vs dark environment, use acetate as a carbon source, and being <br/>provided external electron donors. Hydrogen production, therefore, was predicted to be an <br/>effective indicator of electron availability in the reduced ferredoxin pool.