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Standard tests for reduction of nitrate, NO3-, and nitrite, NO2-, can be useful components of biochemical test batteries for identification of bacteria, including separating members of the family Enterobacteriaceae from other gram-negative bacilli, identifying species of Neisseria and separating them from Moraxella and Kingella species, and facilitating species identification of Corynebacterium and other asporogenous gram-positive bacilli.

Nitrate reduction by bacteria is mediated by nitrate reductase and indicates that the organism can use NO3- as an electron acceptor during anaerobic respiration. Nitrite may be reduced to a variety of nitrogen products including NO, N2O, N2 and NH3, depending on the enzyme system of the organism and the atmosphere in which it is growing. Reduction of nitrate often indicates a shift to or facilitation of anaerobic metabolism, as some organisms can use nitrate as an electron acceptor during anaerobic respiration or anaerobic chemolithotrophy.

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