Sulfur-dependent microbial lifestyles: deceptively flexible roles for biochemically versatile enzymes.


Department of Biology, Pomona College, 645 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711, USA. Electronic address: [Email]


A wide group of microbes are able to "make a living" on Earth by basing their energetic metabolism on inorganic sulfur compounds. Because of their range of stable redox states, sulfur and inorganic sulfur compounds can be utilized as either oxidants or reductants in a diverse array of energy-conserving reactions. In this review the major enzymes and basic chemistry of sulfur-based respiration and chemolithotrophy are outlined. The reversibility and versatility of these enzymes, however, means that they can often be used in multiple ways, and several cases are discussed in which enzymes which are considered to be hallmarks of a particular respiratory or lithotrophic process have been found to be used in other, often opposing, metabolic processes. These results emphasize the importance of taking into account the geochemistry, biochemistry and microbiology of an organism and/or environment when trying to interpret the function of a particular sulfur-dependent redox enzyme.

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