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Journal of Bacteriology


Three putative hydrogenase enzyme systems in Thermoanaerobacterium saccharolyticum were investigated at the genetic, mRNA, enzymatic, and phenotypic levels. A four-gene operon containing two [FeFe]-hydrogenase genes, provisionally termed hfs (hydrogenase-Fe-S), was found to be the main enzymatic catalyst of hydrogen production. hfsB, perhaps the most interesting gene of the operon, contains an [FeFe]-hydrogenase and a PAS sensory domain and has several conserved homologues among clostridial saccharolytic, cellulolytic, and pathogenic bacteria. A second hydrogenase gene cluster, hyd, exhibited methyl viologen-linked hydrogenase enzymatic activity, but hyd gene knockouts did not influence the hydrogen yield of cultures grown in closed-system batch fermentations. This result, combined with the observation that hydB contains NAD(P)+ and FMN binding sites, suggests that the hyd genes are specific to the transfer of electrons from NAD(P)H to hydrogen ions. A third gene cluster, a putative [NiFe]-hydrogenase with homology to the ech genes, did not exhibit hydrogenase activity under any of the conditions tested. Deletion of the hfs and hydA genes resulted in a loss of detectable methyl viologen-linked hydrogenase activity. Strains with a deletion of the hfs genes exhibited a 95% reduction in hydrogen and acetic acid production. A strain with hfs and ldh deletions exhibited an increased ethanol yield from consumed carbohydrates and represents a new strategy for engineering increased ethanol yields in T. saccharolyticum.