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Remarkably low temperature optima for extracellular enzyme activity from Arctic bacteria and sea ice


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Extracellular degradative enzymes released by psychrophilic marine bacteria (growing optimally at or below 15°C and maximally at 20°C) typically express activity optima at temperatures well above the upper growth limit of the producing strain. In the present study, we investigated whether or not near-zero Arctic environments contain extracellular enzymes with activity optimized to temperatures lower than previously reported. By applying fluorescently tagged substrate analogues to measure leucine-aminopeptidase and chitobiase activity, the occurrence of extracellular enzymatic activity (EEA) with remarkably low temperature optima (15°C) was documented in sea-ice samples. An extremely psychrophilic bacterial isolate, strain 34H, yielded an extract of cell-free protease with activity optimized at 20°C, the lowest optimum yet reported for cell-free EEA from a pure culture. The use of zymogram gels revealed the presence of three proteolytic bands (between 37 and 45 kDa) in the extract and the release of the greatest quantities of the proteases when the strain was grown at −1°C, suggesting a bacterial strategy for counteracting the effects of very cold temperatures on the catalytic efficiency of released enzymes. The detection of unusually cold-adapted EEA in environmental samples has ramifications not only to polar ecosystems and carbon cycling but also to protein evolution, biotechnology and bioremediation.