Characterizing mechanisms of extracellular electron transport in sulfur and iron-oxidizing electrochemically active bacteria isolated from marine sediments

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Annette R Rowe, Lina J Bird, Bonita R Lam and Kenneth H Nealson, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, United States
Lithotrophic reactions, including the oxidation of mineral species, are often difficult to detect in environmental systems. This could be due to the nature of substrate or metabolite quantification or the rapid consumption of metabolic end products or intermediates by proximate biological or abiotic processes. Though recently genetic markers have been applied to detecting these processes in environmental systems, our knowledge of lithotrophic markers are limited to those processes catalyzed by organisms that have been cultured and physiologically characterized. Here we describe the use of electrochemical enrichment techniques to isolate marine sediment-dwelling microbes capable of the oxidation or insoluble forms of iron and sulfur including both the elemental species. All the organisms isolated fall within the Alphaproteobacteria and Gammaproteobacteria and are capable of acquiring electrons from an electrode while using either oxygen or nitrate as a terminal electron acceptor. Electrochemical analysis of these microbes has demonstrated that, though they have similar geochemical abilities (either sulfur or iron oxidation), they likely utilize different biochemical mechanisms demonstrated by the variability in dominant electron transfer modes or interactions (i.e., biofilm, planktonic or mediator facilitated interactions) and the wide range of midpoint potentials observed for dominant redox active cellular components (ranging from -293 to +50 mV vs. Ag/AgCl). For example, organisms isolated on elemental sulfur tended to have higher midpoint potentials than iron-oxidizing microbes. A variety of techniques are currently being applied to understanding the different mechanisms of extracellular electron transport for oxidizing an electrode or corresponding insoluble electron donor including both genomic and genetic manipulation experiments. The insight gained from these experiments is not limited to the physiology of the organisms isolated but will also aid in identification of genetic targets to better understand the ecologic importance of lithotrophs and the role solid substrates may play in their metabolism.