, Volume 150, Issue 6, pp 574-579

The production and utilization of intermediary elemental sulfur during the oxidation of reduced sulfur compounds by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans

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The intermediary production of elemental sulfur during the microbial oxidation of reduced sulfur compounds has frequently been reported. Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, an acidophilic chemolithoautotroph, was found to produce an insoluble sulfur compound, primarily elemental sulfur, during the oxidation of thiosulfate, trithionate, tetrathionate and sulfide. This was confirmed by light and electron microscopy. Sulfur was produced from sulfide by an oxidative step, while the production from tetrathionate was initiated by a hydrolytic step, probably followed by a series of chemical reactions. The oxidation of intermediary sulfur was severely inhibited by sulfhydryl-binding reagents such as N-ethylmaleimide, by the addition of uncouplers or after freezing and thawing of the cells, which probably damaged the cell membrane. The mechanisms behind these inhibitions have not yet been clarified. Finally, it was observed that elemental sulfur oxidation by whole cells depended on the medium composition. The absence of sulfate or selenate reduced the sulfur oxidation rate.