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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2012 Oct;78(19):6987-95. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01460-12. Epub 2012 Jul 27.

Geothrix fermentans secretes two different redox-active compounds to utilize electron acceptors across a wide range of redox potentials.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.


The current understanding of dissimilatory metal reduction is based primarily on isolates from the proteobacterial genera Geobacter and Shewanella. However, environments undergoing active Fe(III) reduction often harbor less-well-studied phyla that are equally abundant. In this work, electrochemical techniques were used to analyze respiratory electron transfer by the only known Fe(III)-reducing representative of the Acidobacteria, Geothrix fermentans. In contrast to previously characterized metal-reducing bacteria, which typically reach maximal rates of respiration at electron acceptor potentials of 0 V versus standard hydrogen electrode (SHE), G. fermentans required potentials as high as 0.55 V to respire at its maximum rate. In addition, G. fermentans secreted two different soluble redox-active electron shuttles with separate redox potentials (-0.2 V and 0.3 V). The compound with the lower midpoint potential, responsible for 20 to 30% of electron transfer activity, was riboflavin. The behavior of the higher-potential compound was consistent with hydrophilic UV-fluorescent molecules previously found in G. fermentans supernatants. Both electron shuttles were also produced when cultures were grown with Fe(III), but not when fumarate was the electron acceptor. This study reveals that Geothrix is able to take advantage of higher-redox-potential environments, demonstrates that secretion of flavin-based shuttles is not confined to Shewanella, and points to the existence of high-potential-redox-active compounds involved in extracellular electron transfer. Based on differences between the respiratory strategies of Geothrix and Geobacter, these two groups of bacteria could exist in distinctive environmental niches defined by redox potential.

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