, Volume 88, Issue 1, pp 33-42

Elemental sulfur in the gills of three species of clams containing chemoautotrophic symbiotic bacteria: a possible inorganic energy storage compound

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Abstract

Sulfur content and fine structure were studied for tissues of three species of clams, Lucinoma annulata, Calyptogena elongata and Lucina floridana, which inhabit sulfide-rich environments and whose gills harbor symbiotic sulfur bacteria. Lucinoma annulata and C. elongata were dredged from the Santa Barbara basin, California, USA, at a depth of 480 to 490 m, and Lucina floridana were dug from below the roots of seagrasses in Saint Joseph Bay, Florida, at a depth of 0.25 to 2m. Foot tissue of Lucinoma annulata, without symbionts, had a total sulfur content of 1.4±0.1 (SD) mg 100 mg-1 dry weight of tissue (%DW). The symbiont-containing gill tissue of different individuals of L. annulata varied in color from dark red to pale yellow, and the total sulfur content was 2.5±0.4% DW in red gills and was 5.6±3.3 % DW in the yellowest gills. Maintenance of L. annulata in the laboratory for 21 d in the absence of sulfide resulted in the loss from the gill of yellow deposits which were elemental sulfur in the form of liquid-crystalline sulfur globules rather than solid orthorhombic sulfur crystals. The foot tissue did not contain elemental sulfur. When examined by freeze-etch microscopy, sulfur globules were found only within bacteria and not in the animal host cytoplasm. Sulfur globules were confined to the periplasmic space of the bacteria. C. elongata and Lucina floridana resembled Lucinoma annulata in the physical form and distribution of elemental sulfur. The absence of elemental sulfur in the animal cytoplasm suggests that its formation from sulfide is not a detoxification scheme to protect animal tissue from sulfide toxicity. The sulfur deposits probably represent inorganic energy reserves that permit the symbiotic bacteria to function even during the temporary absence of external sulfide.