Possible contribution of alternative nitrogenases to nitrogen fixation by asymbiotic N2-fixing bacteria in soils

J. P. Bellenger, Y. Xu, Xinning Zhang, Francois M. M. Morel, A. M.L. Kraepiel

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67 Scopus citations


The relative contributions of the alternative (V- and Fe-only) and canonical (Mo-) nitrogenases to N2 fixation in natural environments are still largely unknown. Here we combine chemical and molecular approaches to examine their role in terrestrial ecosystems. Pure-culture studies show that while the R ratio (defined as R=acetylene reduction rate/N2 fixation rate by nitrogenase) is highly variable, low R ratios (0.5<R<2) are usually an indication of alternative nitrogenase activity. Microcosm experiments with temperate soils showed low R ratios and a large increase in N2 fixation rates in response to vanadium amendments, indicating V-nitrogenase activity. Using RT-PCR, we were able to demonstrate expression of the V-nitrogenase, together with the Mo-nitrogenase, in these soils. An analysis of published R ratios showed that the contribution of alternative nitrogenases to asymbiotic N2 fixation in soils may be more prevalent than previously recognized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-420
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Feb 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


  • Acetylene reduction assay
  • Alternative nitrogenase
  • Molybdenum
  • N method
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Vanadium


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