A whole-cell, high-throughput hydrogenase assay to identify factors that modulate [NiFe]-hydrogenase activity
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[NiFe]-hydrogenases have attracted attention as potential therapeutic targets or components of a hydrogen-based economy. [NiFe]-hydrogenase production is a complicated process that requires many associated accessory proteins that supply the requisite cofactors and substrates. Current methods for measuring hydrogenase activity have low throughput and often require specialized conditions and reagents. In this work, we developed a whole-cell high-throughput hydrogenase assay based on the colorimetric reduction of benzyl viologen to explore the biological networks of these enzymes in Escherichia coli We utilized this assay to screen the Keio collection, a set of nonlethal single-gene knockouts in E. coli BW25113. The results of this screen highlighted the assay's specificity and revealed known components of the intricate network of systems that underwrite [NiFe]-hydrogenase activity, including nickel homeostasis and formate dehydrogenase activities as well as molybdopterin and selenocysteine biosynthetic pathways. The screen also helped identify several new genetic components that modulate hydrogenase activity. We examined one E. coli strain with undetectable hydrogenase activity in more detail (ΔeutK), finding that nickel delivery to the enzyme active site was completely abrogated, and tracked this effect to an ancillary and unannotated lack of the fumarate and nitrate reduction (FNR) anaerobic regulatory protein. Collectively, these results demonstrate that the whole-cell assay developed here can be used to uncover new information about bacterial [NiFe]-hydrogenase production and to probe the cellular components of microbial nickel homeostasis.
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