Johannes Holert, Aron Borker, Laura Lucia Nübel, Rolf Daniel, Anja Poehlein, Bodo Philipp

Bacteria use a catabolic patchwork pathway of apparently recent origin for degradation of the synthetic buffer compound TRIS.

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Microbiology

Abstract The synthetic buffer compound TRIS is used in countless applications and no detailed information on its degradation has been published so far. Herein, we describe the discovery of a complete bacterial degradation pathway for TRIS. By serendipity, a Pseudomonas strain was isolated from sewage sludge that was able to grow with TRIS as only carbon and nitrogen source. Genome and transcriptome analyses revealed two adjacent gene clusters embedded in a mobile genetic element on a conjugative plasmid to be involved in TRIS degradation. Heterologous gene expression revealed cluster I to encode a TRIS uptake protein, a TRIS alcohol dehydrogenase, and a TRIS aldehyde dehydrogenase, catalyzing the oxidation of TRIS into 2-hydroxymethylserine. Gene cluster II encodes a methylserine hydroxymethyltransferase and a D-serine dehydratase that plausibly catalyze the conversion of 2-hydroxymethylserine into pyruvate. Conjugational plasmid transfer into Pseudomonas putida KT2440 enabled this strain to grow with TRIS and with 2-hydromethylserine, demonstrating that the complete TRIS degradation pathway can be transmitted by horizontal gene transfer. Subsequent enrichments from wastewater purification systems led to the isolation of further TRIS-degrading bacteria from the Pseudomonas and Shinella genera carrying highly similar TRIS degradation gene clusters. Our data indicate that TRIS degradation evolved recently via gene recruitment and enzyme adaptation from multiple independent metabolic pathways and database searches suggest that the TRIS degradation pathway is now globally distributed. Overall, our study illustrates how engineered environments can enhance the emergence of new microbial metabolic pathways in short evolutionary time scales.

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