The in vivo activity of nitrogenase under aerobiosis was studied with diazotrophic chemostat cultures of Azotobacter vinelandii grown under glucose- or phosphate-limited conditions at different dilution rates (Ds, representing the growth rate mu) and different dissolved oxygen concentrations. Under steady-state conditions, the concentration as well as the cellular level of ATP increased in glucose-limited cultures when D was increased. Irrespective of the type of growth limitation or the dissolved oxygen concentration, the steady-state concentrations of ATP and of dinitrogen fixed by nitrogenase increased in direct proportion to each other. Specific rates of dinitrogen fixation as well as of the regeneration of the cellular ATP pool were compared with specific rates of cellular respiration. With glucose-limited cultures, the rate of regeneration of the ATP pool and the rate of respiration varied in direct proportion to each other. This relationship, however, was dependent on the dissolved oxygen concentration. As compared to the phosphate-sufficient control, phosphate-limited cultures exhibited the same nitrogenase activity but significantly increased respiratory activities. Rates of ATP regeneration and of cellular respiration of phosphate-limited cultures did not fit into the relationship characteristic of glucose-limited cultures. However, a linear relationship between the rates of dinitrogen fixation and ATP regeneration was identified irrespective of the type of growth limitation and the dissolved oxygen concentration. The results suggest that the ATP supply rather than cellular oxygen consumption is of primary importance in keeping nitrogenase activity in aerobic cultures of A. vinelandii
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