Synthesis and function of polyhydroxyalkanoates in anaerobic syntrophic bacteria


1Correspondence to: M.J. McInerney, Department of Botany and Microbiology, 770 Van Vleet Oval, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019-0245, USA.


Abstract Anaerobic syntrophic bacteria degrade fatty acids and some aromatic compounds which are important intermediates in the degradation of organic matter in methanogenic environments. Several of the described syntrophic species produce poly-β-hydroxyalkanoate (PHA) suggesting that the synthesis and use of PHA is important in their physiology. In the fatty acid-degrading, syntrophic bacterium, Syntrophomonas wolfei, PHA is made during exponential phase of growth and used after growth has stopped and substrate levels are low. Altering the carbon to nitrogen ratio of the medium does not affect the amount of PHA made or its monomeric composition. It is hypothesized that PHA serves as an endogenous energy source for syntrophic bacteria when the concentrations of hydrogen or acetate are too high for the degradation of the growth substrate to be thermodynamically favorable. In S. wolfei, PHA is synthesized by two routes, the direct incorporation of 3-ketoacyl-coenzyme A (CoA) generated in β-oxidation without cleavage of a C-C bond, and by the condensation and subsequent reduction of two acetyl-CoA molecules. Genes that encode for the synthesis of PHA in S. wolfei have been cloned into Escherichia coli in order to understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate PHA synthesis.