Most denitrifying bacteria reduce nitrate to the inert gases nitrous oxide or nitrogen. A remarkable exception to this is Rhizobium sullae strain HCNT1, which catalyses only a single step in the denitrification pathway, the reduction of nitrite to the reactive molecule nitric oxide. Further study demonstrated that HCNT1 does not encode the genes for NO reductase. Prolonged incubation of HCNT1 under anoxic conditions revealed that the cells had reduced culturability but not viability when nitrite was present. This may indicate an adaptation to anoxic conditions to provide resistance to environmental stresses. A closely related strain of R. sullae, strain CC1335, which is unable to denitrify, was found to lose culturability but not viability irrespective of the presence of nitrite. When the gene for nitrite reductase was mobilized into CC1335, this increased culturability with or without nitrite. These results indicate that the presence of nitrite reductase can influence the long-term survival of R. sullae strains and may provide an explanation as to why HCNT1 possesses this unusual truncation of its denitrification electron transport chain.

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