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Anaerobic Degradation of Uric Acid by Gut Bacteria of Termites †

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  • General Microbial Ecology


A study was done of anaerobic degradation of uric acid (UA) by representative strains of uricolytic bacteria isolated from guts of Reticulitermes flavipes termites. Streptococcus strain UAD-1 degraded UA incompletely, secreting a fluorescent compound into the medium, unless formate (or a formicogenic compound) was present as a cosubstrate. Formate functioned as a reductant, and its oxidation to CO2 by formate dehydrogenase provided 2H+ + 2e− needed to drive uricolysis to completion. Uricolysis by Streptococcus UAD-1 thus corresponded to the following equation: 1UA + 1formate → 4CO2 + 1acetate + 4NH3. Urea did not appear to be an intermediate in CO2 and NH3 formation during uricolysis by strain UAD-1. Formate dehydrogenase and uricolytic activities of strain UAD-1 were inducible by growth of cells on UA. Bacteroides termitidis strain UAD-50 degraded UA as follows: 1UA → 3.5 CO2 + 0.75acetate + 4NH3. Exogenous formate was neither required for nor stimulatory to uricolysis by strain UAD-50. Studies of UA catabolism by Citrobacter strains were limited, because only small amounts of UA were metabolized by cells in liquid medium. Uricolytic activity of such bacteria in situ could be important to the carbon, nitrogen, and energy economy of R. flavipes.

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