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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1983 Apr;45(4):1261-70.

Colorless Sulfur Bacteria, Beggiatoa spp. and Thiovulum spp., in O(2) and H(2)S Microgradients.

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Institute of Ecology and Genetics, University of Aarhus, Ny Munkegade, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark.


The interactions between colorless sulfur bacteria and the chemical microgradients at the oxygen-sulfide interface were studied in Beggiatoa mats from marine sediments and in Thiovulum veils developing above the sediments. The gradients of O(2), H(2)S, and pH were measured by microelectrodes at depth increments of 50 mum. An unstirred boundary layer in the water surrounding the mats and veils prevented microturbulent or convective mixing of O(2) and H(2)S. The two substrates reached the bacteria only by molecular diffusion through the boundary layer. The bacteria lived as microaerophiles or anaerobes even under stirred, oxic water. Oxygen and sulfide zones overlapped by 50 mum in the bacterial layers. Both compounds had concentrations in the range of 0 to 10 mumol liter and residence times of 0.1 to 0.6 s in the overlapping zone. The sulfide oxidation was purely biological. Diffusion calculations showed that formation of mats on solid substrates or of veils in the water represented optimal strategies for the bacteria to achieve a stable microenvironment, a high substrate supply, and an efficient competition with chemical sulfide oxidation. The continuous gliding movement of Beggiatoa cells in mats or the flickering motion of Thiovulum cells in veils were important for the availability of both O(2) and H(2)S for the individual bacteria.

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