Phototrophic purple sulfur bacteria as heat engines in the South Andros Black Hole
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- Herbert, R.A., Gall, A., Maoka, T. et al. Photosynth Res (2008) 95: 261. doi:10.1007/s11120-007-9246-1
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Photosynthetic organisms normally endeavor to optimize the efficiency of their light-harvesting apparatus. However, here we describe two bacterial isolates belonging to the genera Allochromatium and Thiocapsa that demonstrate a novel adaptation by optimizing their external growth conditions at the expense of photosynthetic efficiency. In the South Andros Black Hole, Bahamas, a dense l-m thick layer of these anoxygenic purple sulfur bacteria is present at a depth of 17.8 m. In this layer the water temperature increases sharply to 36°C as a consequence of the low-energy transfer efficiency of their carotenoids (ca. 30%). These include spirilloxanthin, and related polyene molecules and a novel chiral carotenoid identified as spirilloxanthin-2-ol, not previously reported in purple bacteria. To our knowledge, this study presents the first evidence of such a bacterial mass significantly increasing the ambient water temperature. The transduction of light to heat energy to excess heat may provide these anoxygenic phototropic bacteria with a competitive advantage over non-thermotolerant species, which would account for their predominance within the microbial layer.