The pH dependency of N-converting enzymatic processes, pathways and microbes: effect on net N2O production

Jan-Michael Blum, Qingxian Su, Yunjie Ma, Borja Valverde Pérez, Carlos Domingo-Felez, Marlene Mark Jensen, Barth F. Smets*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewResearchpeer-review

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Nitrous oxide (N2 O) is emitted during microbiological nitrogen (N) conversion processes, when N2 O production exceeds N2 O consumption. The magnitude of N2 O production vs. consumption varies with pH and controlling net N2 O production might be feasible by choice of system pH. This article reviews how pH affects enzymes, pathways and microorganisms that are involved in N-conversions in water engineering applications. At a molecular level, pH affects activity of cofactors and structural elements of relevant enzymes by protonation or deprotonation of amino acid residues or solvent ligands, thus causing steric changes in catalytic sites or proton/electron transfer routes that alter the enzymes' overall activity. Augmenting molecular information with, e.g., nitritation or denitrification rates yields explanations of changes in net N2 O production with pH. Ammonia oxidizing bacteria are of highest relevance for N2 O production, while heterotrophic denitrifiers are relevant for N2 O consumption at pH > 7.5. Net N2 O production in N-cycling water engineering systems is predicted to display a 'bell-shaped' curve in the range of pH 6.0-9.0 with a maximum at pH 7.0-7.5. Net N2 O production at acidic pH is dominated by N2 O production, whereas N2 O consumption can outweigh production at alkaline pH. Thus, pH 8.0 may be a favourable pH set-point for water treatment applications regarding net N2 O production.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1623-1640
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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