Ammonia oxidizing bacteria extract energy for growth from the oxidation of ammonia to nitrite. Ammonia monooxygenase, which initiates ammonia oxidation, remains enigmatic given the lack of purified preparations. Genetic and biochemical studies support a model for the enzyme consisting of three subunits and metal centers of copper and iron. Knowledge of hydroxylamine oxidoreductase, which oxidizes hydroxylamine formed by ammonia monooxygenase to nitrite, is informed by a crystal structure and detailed spectroscopic and catalytic studies. Other inorganic nitrogen compounds, including NO, N2O, NO2, and N2 can be consumed and/or produced by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria. NO and N2O can be produced as byproducts of hydroxylamine oxidation or through nitrite reduction. NO2 can serve as an alternative oxidant in place of O2 in some ammonia-oxidizing strains. Our knowledge of the diversity of inorganic N metabolism by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria continues to grow. Nonetheless, many questions remain regarding the enzymes and genes involved in these processes and the role of these pathways in ammonia oxidizers.
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