Role of the siderophore azotobactin in the bacterial acquisition of nitrogenase metal cofactors

Wichard Thomas, Jean Philippe Bellenger, Francois M. M. Morel, Anne M.L. Kraepiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Fixation of dinitrogen by soil bacteria is catalyzed by the enzyme nitrogenase which requires iron, molybdenum, and/or vanadium as metal cofactors. Under conditions of iron deficiency, the ubiquitous N2-fixing bacterium Azotobacter vinelandii produces azotobactin, a fluorescent pyoverdine-like compound which serves as a siderophore. Azotobatin's hydroxamate, catechol, and α-hydroxy-acid moieties endow it with a very high affinity for FeIII, and the Fe complex is taken up by the bacterium. Here we show that azotobactin also serves for the uptake of Mo and V. Azotobactin forms strong complexes with molybdate and vanadate and the complexes are taken up by regulated transport systems. The kinetics of complexation of molybdate and vanadate by azotobactin are faster than the complexation of FeIII, which is either precipitated or bound to strong complexing agents. As a result of this kinetic advantage, the Mo and V complexes of azotobactin form despite the higher affinity of the compound for Fe, which is present in large excess in the environment. The results obtained here for azotobactin and previous data for the bisand tris-catechols produced by A. vinelandii show that those "siderophores" are really "metallophores" that promote the bacterial acquisition of Mo and V in addition to Fe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7218-7224
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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