Neutrophilic Iron-Oxidizing Bacteria in the Ocean: Their Habitats, Diversity, and Roles in Mineral Deposition, Rock Alteration, and Biomass Production in the Deep-Sea


The importance of metals to life has long been appreciated. Iron (Fe) is the fourth most abundant element overall, and the second most abundant element that is redox-active in near-surface aqueous habitats, rendering it the most important environmental metal. While it has long been recognized that microorganisms participate in the global iron cycle, appreciation for the pivotal role that redox cycling of iron plays in energy conservation among diverse prokaryotes has grown substantially in the past decade. In addition, redox reactions involving Fe are linked to several other biogeochemical cycles (e.g., carbon), with significant ecological ramifications. The increasing appreciation for the role of microbes in redox transformations of Fe is reflected in a recent surge in biological and environmental studies of microorganisms that conserve energy for growth from redox cycling of Fe compounds, particularly in the deep ocean. Here we highlight some of the key habitats where microbial Fe-oxidation plays significant ecological and biogeochemical roles in the oceanic regime, and provide a synthesis of recent studies concerning this important physiological group. We also provide the first evidence that microbial Fe-oxidizing bacteria are a critical factor in the kinetics of mineral dissolution at the seafloor, by accelerating dissolution by 6-8 times over abiotic rates. We assert that these recent studies, which indicate that microbial Fe-oxidation is widespread in the deep-sea, combined with the apparent role that this group play in promoting rock and mineral weathering, indicate that a great deal more attention to these microorganisms is warranted in order to elucidate the full physiological and phylogenetic diversity and activity of the neutrophilic Fe-oxidizing bacteria in the oceans.