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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 23;8(4):e62157. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062157. Print 2013.

Clostridium difficile is an autotrophic bacterial pathogen.

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Institut für Mikrobiologie und Biotechnologie, Universität Ulm, Ulm, Germany.


During the last decade, Clostridium difficile infection showed a dramatic increase in incidence and virulence in the Northern hemisphere. This incessantly challenging disease is the leading cause of antibiotic-associated and nosocomial infectious diarrhea and became life-threatening especially among elderly people. It is generally assumed that all human bacterial pathogens are heterotrophic organisms, being either saccharolytic or proteolytic. So far, this has not been questioned as colonization of the human gut gives access to an environment, rich in organic nutrients. Here, we present data that C. difficile (both clinical and rumen isolates) is also able to grow on CO2+H2 as sole carbon and energy source, thus representing the first identified autotrophic bacterial pathogen. Comparison of several different strains revealed high conservation of genes for autotrophic growth and showed that the ability to use gas mixtures for growth decreases or is lost upon prolonged culturing under heterotrophic conditions. The metabolic flexibility of C. difficile (heterotrophic growth on various substrates as well as autotrophy) could allow the organism in the gut to avoid competition by niche differentiation and contribute to its survival when stressed or in unfavorable conditions that cause death to other bacteria. This may be an important trait for the pathogenicity of C. difficile.

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