The mineral phosphate solubilizing (MPS) ability of a Serratia marcescens strain, namely CTM 50650, isolated from the phosphate mine of Gafsa, was characterized on a chemically defined medium (NBRIP broth). Various insoluble inorganic phosphates, including rock phosphate (RP), calcium phosphate (CaHPO(4)), tri-calcium phosphate (Ca(3)(PO(4))(2)) and hydroxyapatite were tested as sole sources of phosphate for bacterial growth. Solubilization of these phosphates by S. marcescens CTM 50650 was very efficient. Indeed, under optimal conditions, the soluble phosphorus (P) concentration it produced reached 967, 500, 595 and 326 mg/l from CaHPO(4), Ca(3)(PO(4))(2), hydroxyapatite and RP, respectively. Study of the mechanisms involved in the MPS activity of CTM 50650, showed that phosphate solubilization was concomitant with significant drop in pH. HPLC-analysis of culture supernatants revealed the secretion of gluconic acid (GA) resulting from direct oxidation pathway of glucose when the CTM 50650 cells were grown on NBRIP containing glucose as unique carbon source. This was correlated with the simultaneous detection by PCR for the first time in a S. marcescens strain producing GA, of a gene encoding glucose dehydrogenase responsible for GA production, as well as the genes pqqA, B, C and E involved in biosynthesis of its PQQ cofactor. This study is expected to lead to the development of an environmental-friendly process for fertilizer production considering the capacity of S. marcescens CTM 50650 to achieve yields of P extraction up to 75% from the Gafsa RP.
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