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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Lignin induced iron reduction by novel sp., Tolumonas lignolytic BRL6-1


Lignin is the second most abundant carbon polymer on earth and despite having more fuel value than cellulose, it currently is considered a waste byproduct in many industrial lignocellulose applications. Valorization of lignin relies on effective and green methods of de-lignification, with a growing interest in the use of microbes. Here we investigate the physiology and molecular response of the novel facultative anaerobic bacterium, Tolumonas lignolytica BRL6-1, to lignin under anoxic conditions. Physiological and biochemical changes were compared between cells grown anaerobically in either lignin-amended or unamended conditions. In the presence of lignin, BRL6-1 accumulates higher biomass and has a shorter lag phase compared to unamended conditions, and 14% of the proteins determined to be significantly higher in abundance by log2 fold-change of 2 or greater were related to Fe(II) transport in late logarithmic phase. Ferrozine assays of the supernatant confirmed that Fe(III) was bound to lignin and reduced to Fe(II) only in the presence of BRL6-1, suggesting redox activity by the cells. LC-MS/MS analysis of the secretome showed an extra band at 20 kDa in lignin-amended conditions. Protein sequencing of this band identified a protein of unknown function with homology to enzymes in the radical SAM superfamily. Expression of this protein in lignin-amended conditions suggests its role in radical formation. From our findings, we suggest that BRL6-1 is using a protein in the radical SAM superfamily to interact with the Fe(III) bound to lignin and reducing it to Fe(II) for cellular use, increasing BRL6-1 yield under lignin-amended conditions. This interaction potentially generates organic free radicals and causes a radical cascade which could modify and depolymerize lignin. Further research should clarify the extent to which this mechanism is similar to previously described aerobic chelator-mediated Fenton chemistry or radical producing lignolytic enzymes, such as lignin peroxidases, but under anoxic conditions.

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