Open Access Research article

Identification and characterization of the intracellular poly-3-hydroxybutyrate depolymerase enzyme PhaZ of Sinorhizobium meliloti

Maria A Trainer12, David Capstick13, Alicja Zachertowska1, Kathy N Lam14, Scott RD Clark1 and Trevor C Charles1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave W, Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1, Canada

2 Current address: Council of Canadian Academies, 180 Elgin St, Suite 1401, Ottawa, ON, K2P 2K3, Canada

3 Current address: Department of Biology, McMaster University, 1280 Main St West, Hamilton, ON, L8S 4K1, Canada

4 Current address: Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, 1 King's College Circle, Toronto, ON, M5S 1A8, Canada

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:92  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-92

Published: 27 March 2010



S. meliloti forms indeterminate nodules on the roots of its host plant alfalfa (Medicago sativa). Bacteroids of indeterminate nodules are terminally differentiated and, unlike their non-terminally differentiated counterparts in determinate nodules, do not accumulate large quantities of Poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB) during symbiosis. PhaZ is in intracellular PHB depolymerase; it represents the first enzyme in the degradative arm of the PHB cycle in S. meliloti and is the only enzyme in this half of the PHB cycle that remains uncharacterized.


The S. meliloti phaZ gene was identified by in silico analysis, the ORF was cloned, and a S. meliloti phaZ mutant was constructed. This mutant exhibited increased PHB accumulation during free-living growth, even when grown under non-PHB-inducing conditions. The phaZ mutant demonstrated no reduction in symbiotic capacity; interestingly, analysis of the bacteroids showed that this mutant also accumulated PHB during symbiosis. This mutant also exhibited a decreased capacity to tolerate long-term carbon starvation, comparable to that of other PHB cycle mutants. In contrast to other PHB cycle mutants, the S. meliloti phaZ mutant did not exhibit any decrease in rhizosphere competitiveness; however, this mutant did exhibit a significant increase in succinoglycan biosynthesis.


S. meliloti bacteroids retain the capacity to synthesize PHB during symbiosis; interestingly, accumulation does not occur at the expense of symbiotic performance. phaZ mutants are not compromised in their capacity to compete for nodulation in the rhizosphere, perhaps due to increased succinoglycan production resulting from upregulation of the succinoglycan biosynthetic pathway. The reduced survival capacity of free-living cells unable to access their accumulated stores of PHB suggests that PHB is a crucial metabolite under adverse conditions.