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Life (Basel). 2012 Aug 23;2(3):229-42. doi: 10.3390/life2030229.

Survival of the fittest: overcoming oxidative stress at the extremes of Acid, heat and metal.

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Beadle Center for Genetics, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588-0666, USA.
Beadle Center for Genetics, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68588-0666, USA.


The habitat of metal respiring acidothermophilic lithoautotrophs is perhaps the most oxidizing environment yet identified. Geothermal heat, sulfuric acid and transition metals contribute both individually and synergistically under aerobic conditions to create this niche. Sulfuric acid and metals originating from sulfidic ores catalyze oxidative reactions attacking microbial cell surfaces including lipids, proteins and glycosyl groups. Sulfuric acid also promotes hydrocarbon dehydration contributing to the formation of black "burnt" carbon. Oxidative reactions leading to abstraction of electrons is further impacted by heat through an increase in the proportion of reactant molecules with sufficient energy to react. Collectively these factors and particularly those related to metals must be overcome by thermoacidophilic lithoautotrophs in order for them to survive and proliferate. The necessary mechanisms to achieve this goal are largely unknown however mechanistics insights have been gained through genomic studies. This review focuses on the specific role of metals in this extreme environment with an emphasis on resistance mechanisms in Archaea.

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