Nitrogenase-3 of Azotobacter vinelandii is synthesized under conditions of molybdenum and vanadium deficiency. The minimal metal requirement for its synthesis, and its metal content, indicated that the only transition metal in nitrogenase-3 was iron [Chisnell, Premakumar and Bishop (1988) J. Bacteriol. 170, 27-33; Pau, Mitchenall and Robson (1989) J. Bacteriol. 171, 124-129]. A new species of nitrogenase-3 has been purified from a strain of A. vinelandii (RP306) lacking structural genes for the Mo- and V-nitrogenases and containing a mutation which enables nitrogenase-3 to be synthesized in the presence of molybdenum. SDS/PAGE showed that component 1 contained a 15 kDa polypeptide which N-terminal amino acid sequence determination showed to be encoded by anfG. This confirms that nitrogenase-3, like V-nitrogenase, comprises three subunits. Preparations of the nitrogenase-3 from strain RP306 contained 24 Fe atoms and 1 Mo atom per molecule. Characterization of the cofactor centre of the enzyme by e.p.r. spectroscopy and an enzymic cofactor assay, together with stimulation of the growth of strain RP306 by Mo, showed that nitrogenase-3 can incorporate the Mo-nitrogenase cofactor (FeMoco) to form a functional enzyme. The specific activities (nmol of product produced/min per mg of protein) determined from activity titration curves were: under N2, NH3 formation 110, with concomitant H2 evolution of 220; under argon, H2 evolution 350; under 10% acetylene (C2H2) in argon, ethylene (C2H4) 58, ethane (C2H6) 26, and concomitant H2 evolution 226. The rate of formation of C2H6 was non-linear, and the C2H6/C2H4 ratio strongly dependent on the ratio of nitrogenase components.

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