The ecophysiology of sulfur isotope fractionation by sulfate reducing bacteria in response to variable environmental conditions
Abstract:Microbial sulfate reducers (MSR) drive the Earth’s biogeochemical sulfur cycle. At the heart of this energy metabolism is a cascade of redox transformations coupling organic carbon and/or hydrogen oxidation to the dissimilatory reduction of sulfate to sulfide. The sulfide produced is depleted in the heavier isotopes of sulfur relative to sulfate. The magnitude of discrimination (fractionation) depends on: i) the cell-specific sulfate reduction rate (csSRR, Kaplan & Rittenberg (1964) Can. J. Microbio.; Chambers et al. (1975) Can. J. Microbio; Sim et al. (2011) GCA; Leavitt et al. (2013) PNAS), ii) the ambient sulfate concentration (Harrison & Thode (1958) Research; Habicht et al. (2002) Science; Bradley et al. in review), iii) both sulfate and electron donor availability, or iv) an intrinsic physiological limitation (e.g. cellular division rate). When neither sulfate nor electron donor limits csSRR a more complex function relates the magnitude of isotope fractionation to cell physiology and environmental conditions.
In recent and on-going work we have examined the importance of enzyme-specific fractionation factors, as well as the influence of electron donor or electron acceptor availability under carefully controlled culture conditions (e.g. Leavitt et al. (2013) PNAS). In light of recent advances in MSR genetics and biochemistry we utilize well-characterized mutant strains, along with a continuous-culture methodology (Leavitt et al. (2013) PNAS) to further probe the fractionation capacity of this metabolism under controlled physiological conditions. We present our latest findings on the magnitude of S and D/H isotope fractionation in both wild type and mutant strains. We will discuss these in light of recent theoretical advances (Wing & Halevy (2014) PNAS), examining the mode and relevance of MSR isotope fractionation in the laboratory to modern and ancient environmental settings, particularly anoxic marine sediments.