Azotobacter is a bacterial organism used to improve plant health. It has many favourable qualities, including the ability to convert molecular nitrogen (N2) into ammonia NH3 and other nitrous compounds through a process called nitrogen fixation.
It is important in the manufacture of fertilizers as well as the manufacture of chemical compounds relating to explosives, pharmaceuticals, and dyes.
Azotobacter has many ferrodoxins (iron-sulfur proteins) in its genome, which are important for numerous metabolic functions; it can also grow in above-atmospheric levels of oxygen, despite the sensitivity of nitrogenase activity to oxygen.
Due to the favourable bio-chemical properties of Azotobacter, scientists from Cambrium GmbH and Imperial College London were keen to investigate its properties at a molecular level. They used macromolecular crystallography (MX) at Diamond to reveal the structure of Shethna protein from Azotobacter vinelandii.
Through this work, the team hope to understand the function Shethna has in relation to nitrogen fixation and its evolutionary relationships to other ferredoxins. The results will be used in the development of future biomaterials.
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