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ISME J. 2011 Mar;5(3):497-506. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2010.135. Epub 2010 Sep 9.

Sulfide induces phosphate release from polyphosphate in cultures of a marine Beggiatoa strain.

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Department of Microbiology, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, Germany.


Sulfur bacteria such as Beggiatoa or Thiomargarita have a particularly high capacity for storage because of their large size. In addition to sulfur and nitrate, these bacteria also store phosphorus in the form of polyphosphate. Thiomargarita namibiensis has been shown to release phosphate from internally stored polyphosphate in pulses creating steep peaks of phosphate in the sediment and thereby inducing the precipitation of phosphorus-rich minerals. Large sulfur bacteria populate sediments at the sites of recent phosphorite formation and are found as fossils in ancient phosphorite deposits. Therefore, it can be assumed that this physiology contributes to the removal of bioavailable phosphorus from the marine system and thus is important for the global phosphorus cycle. We investigated under defined laboratory conditions which parameters stimulate the decomposition of polyphosphate and the release of phosphate in a marine Beggiatoa strain. Initially, we tested phosphate release in response to anoxia and high concentrations of acetate, because acetate is described as the relevant stimulus for phosphate release in activated sludge. To our surprise, the Beggiatoa strain did not release phosphate in response to this treatment. Instead, we could clearly show that increasing sulfide concentrations and anoxia resulted in a decomposition of polyphosphate. This physiological reaction is a yet unknown mode of bacterial polyphosphate usage and provides a new explanation for high phosphate concentrations in sulfidic marine sediments.

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