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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1978 Aug;36(2):306-13.

Factors related to the oxygen tolerance of anaerobic bacteria.


The effect of atmospheric oxygen on the viability of 13 strains of anaerobic bacteria, two strains of facultative bacteria, and one aerobic organism was examined. There were great variations in oxygen tolerance among the bacteria. All facultative bacteria survived more than 72 h of exposure to atmospheric oxygen. The survival time for anaerobes ranged from less than 45 min for Peptostreptococcus anaerobius to more than 72 h for two Clostridium perfringens strains. An effort was made to relate the degree of oxygen tolerance to the activities of superoxide dismutase, catalase, and peroxidases in cell-free extracts of the bacteria. All facultative bacteria and a number of anaerobic bacteria possessed superoxide dismutase. There was a correlation between superoxide dismutase activity and oxygen tolerance, but there were notable exceptions. Polyacrylamide gel electropherograms stained for superoxide dismutase indicated that many of the anaerobic bacteria contained at least two electrophoretically distinct enzymes with superoxide dismutase activity. All facultative bacteria contained peroxidase, whereas none of the anaerobic bacteria possessed measurable amounts of this enzyme. Catalase activity was variable among the bacteria and showed no relationship to oxygen tolerance. The ability of the bacteria to reduce oxygen was also examined and related to enzyme content and oxygen tolerance. In general, organisms that survived for relatively long periods of time in the presence of oxygen but demonstrated little superoxide dismutase activity reduced little oxygen. The effects of medium composition and conditions of growth were examined for their influence on the level of the three enzymes. Bacteria grown on the surface of an enriched blood agar medium generally had more enzyme activity than bacteria grown in a liquid medium. The data indicate that superoxide dismutase activity and oxygen reduction rates are important determinants related to the tolerance of anaerobic bacteria to oxygen.

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