Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Geobiology

Part of the series Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series pp 271-272


  • Volker ThielAffiliated withGeobiology Group Geoscience Center, University of Göttingen

The term “Chemolithotrophy” refers to the gain of energy for cell biosynthesis and maintenance from the oxidation of inorganic compounds (= electron donors), in the absence of light (Kelly and Wood, 2006). The process was first described by the Russian microbiologist Sergej Winogradsky (1887, 1888).

Chemolithotrophy is a strategy unique to some prokaryotes (i.e., Bacteria and Archaea), the so-called chemolithotrophs. Whereas there is no known macrofauna possessing the capability of chemolithotrophy, some animals such as particular tubeworms and bivalves can form symbioses with chemolithotrophs, (e.g., at cold seeps or in hydrothermal environments). There exist many inorganic electron donors that can fuel chemolithotrophs involving geologic, biologic, and anthropogenic sources. Reduced sulfur, nitrogen and iron species and hydrogen are the most common substrates (Table 1). If chemolithotrophs are able to use CO2 as their carbon source (most are) they are referred to as chemolithoautotrop ...

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