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One of the paradigms of symbiotic nitrogen fixation has been that bacteroids reduce N2 to ammonium and secrete it without assimilation into amino acids. This has recently been challenged by work with soybeans showing that only alanine is excreted in 15N2 labelling experiments. Work with peas shows that the bacteroid nitrogen secretion products during in vitro experiments depend on the experimental conditions. There is a mixed secretion of both ammonium and alanine depending critically on the concentration of bacteroids and ammonium concentration. The pathway of alanine synthesis has been shown to be via alanine dehydrogenase, and mutation of this enzyme indicates that in planta there is likely to be mixed secretion of ammonium and alanine. Alanine synthesis directly links carbon catabolism and nitrogen assimilation in the bacteroid. There is now overwhelming evidence that the principal carbon sources of bacteroids are the C4-dicarboxylic acids. This is based on labelling and bacteroid respiration data, and mutation of both the dicarboxylic acid transport system (dct) and malic enzyme. L-malate is at a key bifurcation point in bacteroid metabolism, being oxidized to oxaloacetate and oxidatively decarboxylated to pyruvate. Pyruvate can be aminated to alanine or converted to acetyl-CoA where it either enters the TCA cycle by condensation with oxaloacetate or forms polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). Thus regulation of carbon and nitrogen metabolism are strongly connected. Efficient catabolism of C4-dicarboxylates requires the balanced input and removal of intermediates from the TCA cycle. The TCA cycle in bacteroids may be limited by the redox state of NADH/NAD+ at the 2-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase complex, and a number of pathways may be involved in bypassing this block. These pathways include PHB synthesis, glutamate synthesis, glycogen synthesis, GABA shunt and glutamine cycling. Their operation may be critical in maintaining the optimum redox poise and carbon balance of the TCA cycle. They can also be considered to be overflow pathways since they act to remove or add electrons and carbon into the TCA cycle. Optimum operation of the TCA cycle has a major impact on nitrogen fixation.


Journal article


Adv Microb Physiol

Publication Date





117 - 163


Alanine, Carbon, Citric Acid Cycle, Dicarboxylic Acids, Gluconeogenesis, Glutamic Acid, Nitrogen Fixation, Quaternary Ammonium Compounds, Rhizobium