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Nitrogenase biosynthesis protein NifB catalyzes the radical S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAM)-dependent insertion of carbide into the M cluster, the cofactor of the molybdenum nitrogenase from Azotobacter vinelandii. Here, we report the identification and characterization of two naturally "truncated" homologs of NifB from Methanosarcina acetivorans (NifB(Ma)) and Methanobacterium thermoautotrophicum (NifB(Mt)), which contain a SAM-binding domain at the N terminus but lack a domain toward the C terminus that shares homology with NifX, an accessory protein in M cluster biosynthesis. NifB(Ma) and NifB(Mt) are monomeric proteins containing a SAM-binding [Fe4S4] cluster (designated the SAM cluster) and a [Fe4S4]-like cluster pair (designated the K cluster) that can be processed into an [Fe8S9] precursor to the M cluster (designated the L cluster). Further, the K clusters in NifB(Ma) and NifB(Mt) can be converted to L clusters upon addition of SAM, which corresponds to their ability to heterologously donate L clusters to the biosynthetic machinery of A. vinelandii for further maturation into the M clusters. Perhaps even more excitingly, NifB(Ma) and NifB(Mt) can catalyze the removal of methyl group from SAM and the abstraction of hydrogen from this methyl group by 5'-deoxyadenosyl radical that initiates the radical-based incorporation of methyl-derived carbide into the M cluster. The successful identification of NifB(Ma) and NifB(Mt) as functional homologs of NifB not only enabled classification of a new subset of radical SAM methyltransferases that specialize in complex metallocluster assembly, but also provided a new tool for further characterization of the distinctive, NifB-catalyzed methyl transfer and conversion to an iron-bound carbide.


Aaron W Fay, Jared A Wiig, Chi Chung Lee, Yilin Hu. Identification and characterization of functional homologs of nitrogenase cofactor biosynthesis protein NifB from methanogens. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2015 Dec 1;112(48):14829-33

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PMID: 26627238

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