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  1. Study of α-V70I-substituted nitrogenase MoFe protein identified Fe6 of FeMo-cofactor (Fe 7 S 9 MoC-homocitrate) as a critical N 2 binding/reduction site. Freeze-trapping this enzyme during Ar turnover captured the key catalytic intermediate in high occupancy, denoted E 4 (4H), which has accumulated 4[e − /H + ] as two bridging hydrides, Fe2–H–Fe6 and Fe3–H–Fe7, and protons bound to two sulfurs. E 4 (4H) is poised to bind/reduce N 2 as driven by mechanistically-coupled H 2 reductive-elimination of the hydrides. This process must compete with ongoing hydride protonation (HP), which releases H 2 as the enzyme relaxes to state E 2 (2H), containing 2[e − /H + ] as a hydride and sulfur-bound proton; accumulation of E 4 (4H) in α-V70I is enhanced by HP suppression. EPR and 95 Mo ENDOR spectroscopies now show that resting-state α-V70I enzyme exists in two conformational states, both in solution and as crystallized, one with wild type (WT)-like FeMo-co and one with perturbed FeMo-co. These reflect two conformations of the Ile residue, as visualized in a reanalysis of the X-ray diffraction data of α-V70I and confirmed by computations. EPR measurements show delivery of 2[e − /H + ] to the E 0 state of the WT MoFe protein and to both α-V70I conformations generating E 2 (2H) that contains the Fe3–H–Fe7 bridging hydride; accumulation of another 2[e − /H + ] generates E 4 (4H) with Fe2–H–Fe6 as the second hydride. E 4 (4H) in WT enzyme and a minority α-V70I E 4 (4H) conformation as visualized by QM/MM computations relax to resting-state through two HP steps that reverse the formation process: HP of Fe2–H–Fe6 followed by slower HP of Fe3–H–Fe7, which leads to transient accumulation of E 2 (2H) containing Fe3–H–Fe7. In the dominant α-V70I E 4 (4H) conformation, HP of Fe2–H–Fe6 is passively suppressed by the positioning of the Ile sidechain; slow HP of Fe3–H–Fe7 occurs first and the resulting E 2 (2H) contains Fe2–H–Fe6. It is this HP suppression in E 4 (4H) that enables α-V70I MoFe to accumulate E 4 (4H) in high occupancy. In addition, HP suppression in α-V70I E 4 (4H) kinetically unmasks hydride reductive-elimination without N 2 -binding, a process that is precluded in WT enzyme. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 19, 2024
  2. The planetary biosphere is powered by a suite of key metabolic innovations that emerged early in the history of life. However, it is unknown whether life has always followed the same set of strategies for performing these critical tasks. Today, microbes access atmospheric sources of bioessential nitrogen through the activities of just one family of enzymes, nitrogenases. Here, we show that the only dinitrogen reduction mechanism known to date is an ancient feature conserved from nitrogenase ancestors. We designed a paleomolecular engineering approach wherein ancestral nitrogenase genes were phylogenetically reconstructed and inserted into the genome of the diazotrophic bacterial model,Azotobacter vinelandii,enabling an integrated assessment of both in vivo functionality and purified nitrogenase biochemistry. Nitrogenase ancestors are active and robust to variable incorporation of one or more ancestral protein subunits. Further, we find that all ancestors exhibit the reversible enzymatic mechanism for dinitrogen reduction, specifically evidenced by hydrogen inhibition, which is also exhibited by extantA. vinelandiinitrogenase isozymes. Our results suggest that life may have been constrained in its sampling of protein sequence space to catalyze one of the most energetically challenging biochemical reactions in nature. The experimental framework established here is essential for probing how nitrogenase functionality has been shaped within a dynamic, cellular context to sustain a globally consequential metabolism.

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    Kang et al . (Reports, 19 June 2020, p. 1381) report a structure of the nitrogenase MoFe protein that is interpreted to indicate binding of N 2 or an N 2 -derived species to the active-site FeMo cofactor. Independent refinement of the structure and consideration of biochemical evidence do not support this claim. 
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    The electronic structure of the active-site metal cofactor (FeV-cofactor) of resting-state V-dependent nitrogenase has been an open question, with earlier studies indicating that it exhibits a broad S = 3/2 EPR signal (Kramers state) having g values of ∼4.3 and 3.8, along with suggestions that it contains metal-ions with valencies [1V 3+ , 3Fe 3+ , 4Fe 2+ ]. In the present work, genetic, biochemical, and spectroscopic approaches were combined to reveal that the EPR signals previously assigned to FeV-cofactor do not correlate with active VFe-protein, and thus cannot arise from the resting-state of catalytically relevant FeV-cofactor. It, instead, appears resting-state FeV-cofactor is either diamagnetic, S = 0, or non-Kramers, integer-spin ( S = 1, 2 etc. ). When VFe-protein is freeze-trapped during high-flux turnover with its natural electron-donating partner Fe protein, conditions which populate reduced states of the FeV-cofactor, a new rhombic S = 1/2 EPR signal from such a reduced state is observed, with g = [2.18, 2.12, 2.09] and showing well-defined 51 V ( I = 7/2) hyperfine splitting, a iso = 110 MHz. These findings indicate a different assignment for the electronic structure of the resting state of FeV-cofactor: S = 0 (or integer-spin non-Kramers state) with metal-ion valencies, [1V 3+ , 4Fe 3+ , 3Fe 2+ ]. Our findings suggest that the V 3+ does not change valency throughout the catalytic cycle. 
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  7. Nitrogenase is the enzyme that catalyzes biological N2 reduction to NH3. This enzyme achieves an impressive rate enhancement over the uncatalyzed reaction. Given the high demand for N2 fixation to support food and chemical production and the heavy reliance of the industrial Haber–Bosch nitrogen fixation reaction on fossil fuels, there is a strong need to elucidate how nitrogenase achieves this difficult reaction under benign conditions as a means of informing the design of next generation synthetic catalysts. This Review summarizes recent progress in addressing how nitrogenase catalyzes the reduction of an array of substrates. New insights into the mechanism of N2 and proton reduction are first considered. This is followed by a summary of recent gains in understanding the reduction of a number of other nitrogenous compounds not considered to be physiological substrates. Progress in understanding the reduction of a wide range of C-based substrates, including CO and CO2, is also discussed, and remaining challenges in understanding nitrogenase substrate reduction are considered. 
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