Genetic, structural, and functional diversity of low and high-affinity siderophores in strains of nitrogen fixing: Azotobacter chroococcum

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Journal Article
To increase iron (Fe) bioavailability in surface soils, microbes secrete siderophores, chelators with widely varying Fe affinities. Strains of the soil bacterium Azotobacter chroococcum (AC), plant-growth promoting rhizobacteria used as agricultural inoculants, require high Fe concentrations for aerobic respiration and nitrogen fixation. Recently, A. chroococcum str. NCIMB 8003 was shown to synthesize three siderophore classes: (1) vibrioferrin, a low-affinity α-hydroxy carboxylate (pFe = 18.4), (2) amphibactins, high-affinity tris-hydroxamates, and (3) crochelin A, a high-affinity siderophore with mixed Fe-chelating groups (pFe = 23.9). The relevance and specific functions of these siderophores in AC strains remain unclear. We analyzed the genome and siderophores of a second AC strain, A. chroococcum str. B3, and found that it also produces vibrioferrin and amphibactins, but not crochelin A. Genome comparisons indicate that vibrioferrin production is a vertically inherited, conserved strategy for Fe uptake in A. chroococcum and other species of Azotobacter. Amphibactin and crochelin biosynthesis reflects a more complex evolutionary history, shaped by vertical gene transfer, gene gain and loss through recombination at a genomic hotspot. We found conserved patterns of low vs. high-affinity siderophore production across strains: the low-affinity vibrioferrin was produced by mildly Fe limited cultures. As cells became more severely Fe starved, vibrioferrin production decreased in favor of high-affinity amphibactins (str. B3, NCIMB 8003) and crochelin A (str. NCIMB 8003). Our results show the evolution of low and high-affinity siderophore families and conserved patterns for their production in response to Fe bioavailability in a common soil diazotroph. © 2019 The Royal Society of Chemistry.