Metal reduction and sporulation in Desulfotomaculum reducens

The genera Desulfotomaculum and Clostridium, belonging to the phylum Firmicutes, comprise Gram-positive, low G+C genomic content, anaerobic, spore- forming bacteria. Desulfotomaculum is a metabolically and environmentally versatile genus capable of growing fermentatively as well as by respiring sulfate. D. reducens is also capable of metal reduction and has been reported to conserve energy from this process. In this thesis, iron (Fe(III)) reduction by D. reducens in the presence of pyruvate or lactate as electron donors was investigated. When pyruvate is present, D. reducens grows fermentatively. If Fe(III) is present, it can act as an electron sink alternative to protons and consume excess reducing equivalents accumulated during pyruvate oxidation. Electron transfer to Fe(III) by D. reducens in the presence of pyruvate is mediated by a soluble electron carrier, likely riboflavin, released by cells during fermentation. This mechanism allows the microorganism to reduce extracellular, solid phase Fe(III) even if it is not directly accessible by physical contact. In the presence of lactate, D. reducens is unable to conserve significant energy from electron donor oxidation and Fe(III) reduction. In contrast to pyruvate, during lactate oxidation, no redox-active compound is released by the cells, and extracellular, solid phase Fe(III) can only be reduced by direct contact. This implies that a surface exposed reductase must be present in D. reducens cells. The investigation of the surface proteome of this organism led to the identification of three proteins, most likely localized to the cell surface, potentially involved in Fe(III) reduction. One is a heterodisulfide reductase subunit A, a putative intermediate in the Fe(III) reduction chain. The second is a membrane-associated hydrogenase. The third protein is annotated as alkyl hydroperoxide reductase although its actual function may be thiol-disulfide oxidoreduction; several lines of evidence suggest the involvement of the latter in metal reduction by D. reducens. Clostridium species are widespread in the environment and are capable of utilizing a great variety of organic substrates for fermentative growth, while they are unable to conserve energy through respiration. However, they can reduce terminal electron acceptors to eliminate excess reducing equivalents from fermentation. Among the electron acceptors used by Clostridium spp., are metals, such as iron and uranium (U(VI)). One species whose vegetative cells are capable of U(VI) reduction is C. acetobutylicum, although little information is available on the mechanism underlying this process. In this thesis, the potential involvement of the spores of C. acetobutylicum in U(VI) reduction is probed. It was found that the spores of this species can reduce the radionuclide, and that to do so they require the presence of an unidentified soluble compound released by growing cells and H2 as the electron donor. The involvement of spores in metal reduction is very interesting because generally spores are considered not to interact directly with the surrounding environment. In fact, spores are dormant, thus metabolically inactive, cells. Spore formation is a cell differentiation process activated in response to environmental stress and conditions that are hostile to vegetative growth. Sporulation has been extensively studied and characterized in Bacillus subtilis, for which a model has been developed. Some information is also available on sporulation in the clostridia. In this thesis, a genomic investigation of sporulation in the Desulfotomaculum genus was undertaken. The B. subtilis model was used as a reference and the information on Clostridium as a comparison. Significant similarities were found in the core regulatory process across genera, while some differences were identified in the initiation of sporulation. Substantial differences were highlighted in the spore structural proteins.


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