Physiology, phylogenetic relationships, and ecology of filamentous sulfate-reducing bacteria (genus Desulfonema)
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Microscopy of organic-rich, sulfidic sediment samples of marine and freshwater origin revealed filamentous, multicellular microorganisms with gliding motility. Many of these neither contained sulfur droplets such as the Beggiatoa species nor exhibited the autofluorescence of the chlorophyll-containing cyanobacteria. A frequently observed morphological type of filamentous microorganism was enriched under anoxic conditions in the dark with isobutyrate plus sulfate. Two strains of filamentous, gliding sulfate-reducing bacteria, Tokyo 01 and Jade 02, were isolated in pure cultures. Both isolates oxidized acetate and other aliphatic acids. Enzyme assays indicated that the terminal oxidation occurs via the anaerobic C1 pathway (carbon monoxide dehydrogenase pathway). The 16S rRNA genes of the new isolates and of the two formerly described filamentous species of sulfate-reducing bacteria, Desulfonema limicola and Desulfonema magnum, were analyzed. All four strains were closely related to each other and affiliated with the δ-subclass of Proteobacteria. Another close relative was the unicellular Desulfococcus multivorans. Based on phylogenetic relationships and physiological properties, Strains Tokyo 01 and Jade 02 are assigned to a new species, Desulfonema ishimotoi. A new, fluorescently labeled oligonucleotide probe targeted against 16S rRNA was designed so that that it hybridized specifically with whole cells of Desulfonema species. Filamentous bacteria that hybridized with the same probe were detected in sediment samples and in association with the filamentous sulfur-oxidizing bacterium Thioploca in its natural habitat. We conclude that Desulfonema species constitute an ecologically significant fraction of the sulfate-reducing bacteria in organic-rich sediments and microbial mats.
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