Isolation and Characterization of Novel Psychrophilic, Neutrophilic, Fe-Oxidizing, Chemolithoautotrophic {alpha}- and {gamma}-Proteobacteria from the Deep Sea

Date Published:

May 1, 2003


We report the isolation and physiological characterization of novel, psychrophilic, iron-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) from low-temperature weathering habitats in the vicinity of the Juan de Fuca deep-sea hydrothermal area. The FeOB were cultured from the surfaces of weathered rock and metalliferous sediments. They are capable of growth on a variety of natural and synthetic solid rock and mineral substrates, such as pyrite (FeS2), basalt glass ([~]10 wt% FeO), and siderite (FeCO3), as their sole energy source, as well as numerous aqueous Fe substrates. Growth temperature characteristics correspond to the in situ environmental conditions of sample origin; the FeOB grow optimally at 3 to 10{degrees}C and at generation times ranging from 57 to 74 h. They are obligate chemolithoautotrophs and grow optimally under microaerobic conditions in the presence of an oxygen gradient or anaerobically in the presence of nitrate. None of the strains are capable of using any organic or alternate inorganic substrates tested. The bacteria are phylogenetically diverse and have no close Fe-oxidizing or autotrophic relatives represented in pure culture. One group of isolates are {gamma}-Proteobacteria most closely related to the heterotrophic bacterium Marinobacter aquaeolei (87 to 94% sequence similarity). A second group of isolates are {alpha}-Proteobacteria most closely related to the deep-sea heterotrophic bacterium Hyphomonas jannaschiana (81 to 89% sequence similarity). This study provides further evidence for the evolutionarily widespread capacity for Fe oxidation among bacteria and suggests that FeOB may play an unrecognized geomicrobiological role in rock weathering in the deep sea.