Nitrogen acquisition from mineral-associated proteins by an ectomycorrhizal fungus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In nitrogen (N)-limited boreal forests, trees depend on the decomposing activity of their ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungal symbionts to access soil N. A large fraction of this N exists as proteinaceous compounds associated with mineral particles. However, it is not known if ECM fungi can access these mineral-associated proteins; accordingly, possible acquisition mechanisms have not been investigated. With tightly controlled isotopic, spectroscopic, and chromatographic experiments, we quantified and analyzed the mechanisms of N acquisition from iron oxide mineral-associated proteins by Paxillus involutus, a widespread ECM fungus in boreal forests. The fungus acquired N from the mineral-associated proteins. The collective results indicated a proteolytic mechanism involving formation of the crucial enzyme–substrate complexes at the mineral surfaces. Hence, the enzymes hydrolyzed the mineral-associated proteins without initial desorption of the proteins. The proteolytic activity was suppressed by adsorption of proteases to the mineral particles. This process was counteracted by fungal secretion of mineral-surface-reactive compounds that decreased the protease–mineral interactions and thereby promoted the formation of enzyme–substrate complexes. The ability of ECM fungi to simultaneously generate extracellular proteases and surface-reactive metabolites suggests that they can play an important role in unlocking the large N pool of mineral-associated proteins to trees in boreal forests.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology


  • boreal forests, decomposition and N acquisition, ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi, iron oxides, mineral-associated organic nitrogen, Paxillus involutus, secondary metabolites, soil proteins
Original languageEnglish
JournalNew Phytologist
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020 Apr 12
Publication categoryResearch