Cyanobacterial Hydrogenases and Hydrogen Metabolism Revisited: Recent Progress and Future Prospects
Cyanobacteria use sunlight and water to produce hydrogen gas (H₂), which is potentially useful as a clean and renewable biofuel. Photobiological H₂ arises primarily as an inevitable by-product of N₂ fixation by nitrogenase, an oxygen-labile enzyme typically containing an iron-molybdenum cofactor (FeMo-co) active site. In Anabaena sp. strain 7120, the enzyme is localized to the microaerobic environment of heterocysts, a highly differentiated subset of the filamentous cells. In an effort to increase H₂ production by this strain, six nitrogenase amino acid residues predicted to reside within 5 Å of the FeMo-co were mutated in an attempt to direct electron flow selectively toward proton reduction in the presence of N₂. Most of the 49 variants examined were deficient in N₂-fixing growth and exhibited decreases in their in vivo rates of acetylene reduction. Of greater interest, several variants examined under an N₂ atmosphere significantly increased their in vivo rates of H₂ production, approximating rates equivalent to those under an Ar atmosphere, and accumulated high levels of H₂ compared to the reference strains. These results demonstrate the feasibility of engineering cyanobacterial strains for enhanced photobiological production of H₂ in an aerobic, nitrogen-containing environment.