, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 77-91

Dissimilatory Oxidation and Reduction of Elemental Sulfur in Thermophilic Archaea

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Abstract

The oxidation and reduction of elemental sulfur and reduced inorganic sulfur species are some of the most important energy-yielding reactions for microorganisms living in volcanic hot springs, solfataras, and submarine hydrothermal vents, including both heterotrophic, mixotrophic, and chemolithoautotrophic, carbon dioxide-fixing species. Elemental sulfur is the electron donor in aerobic archaea like Acidianus and Sulfolobus. It is oxidized via sulfite and thiosulfate in a pathway involving both soluble and membrane-bound enzymes. This pathway was recently found to be coupled to the aerobic respiratory chain, eliciting a link between sulfur oxidation and oxygen reduction at the level of the respiratory heme copper oxidase. In contrast, elemental sulfur is the electron acceptor in a short electron transport chain consisting of a membrane-bound hydrogenase and a sulfur reductase in (facultatively) anaerobic chemolithotrophic archaea Acidianus and Pyrodictium species. It is also the electron acceptor in organoheterotrophic anaerobic species like Pyrococcus and Thermococcus, however, an electron transport chain has not been described as yet. The current knowledge on the composition and properties of the aerobic and anaerobic pathways of dissimilatory elemental sulfur metabolism in thermophilic archaea is summarized in this contribution.