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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1971 May; 68(5): 1024–1027.
PMCID: PMC389105

An Enzyme-Based Theory of Obligate Anaerobiosis: The Physiological Function of Superoxide Dismutase


The distribution of catalase and superoxide dismutase has been examined in various micro-organisms. Strict anaerobes exhibited no superoxide dismutase and, generally, no catalase activity. All aerobic organisms containing cytochrome systems were found to contain both superoxide dismutase and catalase. Aerotolerant anaerobes, which survive exposure to air and metabolize oxygen to a limited extent but do not contain cytochrome systems, were found to be devoid of catalase activity but did exhibit superoxide dismutase activity. This distribution is consistent with the proposal that the prime physiological function of superoxide dismutase is protection of oxygen-metabolizing organisms against the potentially detrimental effects of the superoxide free radical, a biologically produced intermediate resulting from the univalent reduction of molecular oxygen.

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