Denitrification is an alternative form of respiration in which bacteria sequentially reduce nitrate or nitrite to nitrogen gas by the intermediates nitric oxide and nitrous oxide when oxygen concentrations are limiting. In Bradyrhizobium japonicum, the N2-fixing microsymbiont of soya beans, denitrification depends on the napEDABC, nirK, norCBQD, and nosRZDFYLX gene clusters encoding nitrate-, nitrite-, nitric oxide- and nitrous oxide-reductase respectively. Mutational analysis of the B. japonicum nap genes has demonstrated that the periplasmic nitrate reductase is the only enzyme responsible for nitrate respiration in this bacterium. Regulatory studies using transcriptional lacZ fusions to the nirK, norCBQD and nosRZDFYLX promoter region indicated that microaerobic induction of these promoters is dependent on the fixLJ and fixK2 genes whose products form the FixLJ–FixK2 regulatory cascade. Besides FixK2, another protein, nitrite and nitric oxide respiratory regulator, has been shown to be required for N-oxide regulation of the B. japonicum nirK and norCBQD genes. Thus nitrite and nitric oxide respiratory regulator adds to the FixLJ–FixK2 cascade an additional control level which integrates the N-oxide signal that is critical for maximal induction of the B. japonicum denitrification genes. However, the identity of the signalling molecule and the sensing mechanism remains unknown.

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