Something special about CO-dependent CO2 fixation

Joana C. Xavier, Martina Preiner, William F. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Carbon dioxide enters metabolism via six known CO2 fixation pathways, of which only one is linear, exergonic in the direction of CO2-assimilation, and present in both bacterial and archaeal anaerobes – the Wood-Ljungdahl (WL) or reductive acetyl-CoA pathway. Carbon monoxide (CO) plays a central role in the WL pathway as an energy rich intermediate. Here, we scan the major biochemical reaction databases for reactions involving CO and CO2. We identified 415 reactions corresponding to enzyme commission (EC) numbers involving CO2, which are non-randomly distributed across different biochemical pathways. Their taxonomic distribution, reversibility under physiological conditions, cofactors and prosthetic groups are summarized. In contrast to CO2, only 15 reaction classes involving CO were detected. Closer inspection reveals that CO interfaces with metabolism and the carbon cycle at only two enzymes: anaerobic carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH), a Ni- and Fe-containing enzyme that generates CO for CO2 fixation in the WL pathway, and aerobic CODH, a Mo- and Cu-containing enzyme that oxidizes environmental CO as an electron source. The CO-dependent reaction of the WL pathway involves carbonyl insertion into a methyl carbon-nickel at the Ni-Fe-S A-cluster of acetyl-CoA synthase (ACS). It appears that no alternative mechanisms to the CO-dependent reaction of ACS have evolved in nearly 4 billion years, indicating an ancient and mechanistically essential role for CO at the onset of metabolism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4181-4195
Number of pages15
JournalFEBS Journal
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • carbon dioxide
  • carbon monoxide
  • enzymatic reactions
  • metabolic networks


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