Determination of the nucleotide sequence of the nitrogenase structural genes (nifHDK2) from Methanosarcina barkeri 227 was completed in this study by cloning and sequencing a 2.7-kb BamHI fragment containing the 3' end of nifK2 and 1,390 bp of the nifE2-homologous genes. Open reading frame nifK2 is 1,371 bp long including the stop codon TAA and encodes a polypeptide of 456 amino acids. Phylogenetic analysis of the deduced amino acid sequences of the nifK2 and nifE2 gene products from M. barkeri showed that both genes cluster most closely with the corresponding nif-1 gene products from Clostridium pasteurianum, consistent with our previous analyses of nifH2 and nifD2. The nifE gene product is known to be homologous to that of nifD, and our analysis shows that the branching pattern for the nifE proteins resembles that for the nifD product (with the exception of vnfE from Azotobacter vinelandii), suggesting that a gene duplication occurred before the divergence of nitrogenases. Primer extension showed that nifH2 had a single transcription start site located 34 nucleotides upstream of the ATG translation start site for nifH2, and a sequence resembling the archaeal consensus promoter sequence [TTTA(A/T)ATA] was found 32 nucleotides upstream from that transcription start site. A tract of four T's, previously identified as a transcription termination site in archaea, was found immediately downstream of the nifK2 gene, and a potential promoter was located upstream of the nifE2 gene. Hybridization with nifH2 and nifDK2 probes with M. barkeri RNA revealed a 4.6-kb transcript from N2-grown cells, large enough to harbor nifHDK genes and their internal open reading frames, while no transcript was detected from NH4(+)-grown cells. These results support a model in which the nitrogenase structural genes in M. barkeri are cotranscribed in a single NH4(+)-repressed operon
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