, Volume 71, Issue 1-2, pp 95-107

Oxidative metabolism of inorganic sulfur compounds by bacteria

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Abstract

The history of the elucidation of the microbiology and biochemistry of the oxidation of inorganic sulfur compounds in chemolithotrophic bacteria is briefly reviewed, and the contribution of Martinus Beijerinck to the study of sulfur-oxidizing bacteria highlighted. Recent developments in the biochemistry, enzymology and molecular biology of sulfur oxidation in obligately and facultatively lithotrophic bacteria are summarized, and the existence of at least two major pathways of thiosulfate (sulfur and sulfide) oxidation confirmed. These are identified as the ‘Paracoccus sulfur oxidation’ (or PSO) pathway and the ‘S4intermediate’ (or S4I) pathway respectively. The former occurs in organisms such as Paracoccus (Thiobacillus) versutus and P. denitrificans, and possibly in Thiobacillus novellus and Xanthobacter spp. The latter pathway is characteristic of the obligate chemolithotrophs (e.g. Thiobacillus tepidarius, T. neapolitanus, T. ferrooxidans, T. thiooxidans) and facultative species such as T. acidophilus and T. aquaesulis, all of which can produce or oxidize tetrathionate when grown on thiosulfate. The central problem, as yet incompletely resolved in all cases, is the enzymology of the conversion of sulfane-sulfur (as in the outer [S-] atom of thiosulfate [-S-SO3-]), or sulfur itself, to sulfate, and whether sulfite is involved as a free intermediate in this process in all, or only some, cases. The study of inorganic sulfur compound oxidation for energetic purposes in bacteria (i.e. chemolithotrophy and sulfur photolithotrophy) poses challenges for comparative biochemistry. It also provides evidence of convergent evolution among diverse bacterial groups to achieve the end of energy-yielding sulfur compound oxidation (to drive autotrophic growth on carbon dioxide) but using a variety of enzymological systems, which share some common features. Some new data are presented on the oxidation of 35S-thiosulfate, and on the effect of other anions (selenate, molybdate, tu ngstate, chromate, vanadate) on sulfur compound oxidation, including observations which relate to the roles of polythionates and elemental sulfur as intermediates.