The phenotypes of three different strains – wild-type, nitrite reductase (NirK)-deficient and nitric oxide reductase (NorB)-deficient strains – were characterized in chemostat cell cultures, and the effect of nitric oxide (NO) on metabolic activities was evaluated. All strains revealed similar aerobic ammonia oxidation activities, but the growth rates and yields of the knock-out mutants were significantly reduced. Dinitrogen (N) was the main gaseous product of the wild-type, produced via its denitrification activity. The mutants were unable to reduce nitrite to N, but excreted more hydroxylamine leading to the formation of almost equal amounts of NO, nitrous oxide (NO) and N by chemical auto-oxidation and chemodenitrification of hydroxylamine. Under anoxic conditions wild-type gains energy for growth via nitrogen dioxide (NO)-dependent ammonia oxidation or hydrogen-dependent denitrification using nitrite as electron acceptor. The mutant strains were restricted to NO and/or NO as electron acceptor and consequently their growth rates and yields were much lower compared with the wild-type. When cells were transferred from anoxic (denitrification) to oxic conditions, the wild-type strain endogenously produced NO and recovered ammonia oxidation within 8 h. In contrast, the mutant strains remained inactive. For recovery of ammonia oxidation activity the NO concentration had to be adjusted to about 10 p.p.m. in the aeration gas.


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