Department of Biology

Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Bo Barker Jørgensen

Evidence for the Existence of Autotrophic Nitrate-Reducing Fe(II)-Oxidizing Bacteria in Marine Coastal Sediment

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Nitrate-reducing Fe(II)-oxidizing microorganisms were described for the first time ca. 20 years ago. Most pure cultures of nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers can oxidize Fe(II) only under mixotrophic conditions, i.e., when an organic cosubstrate is provided. A small number of nitrate-reducing Fe(II)-oxidizing cultures have been proposed to grow autotrophically, but unambiguous evidence for autotrophy has not always been provided. Thus, it is still unclear whether or to what extent Fe(II) oxidation coupled to nitrate reduction is an enzymatically catalyzed and energy-yielding autotrophic process or whether Fe(II) is abiotically oxidized by nitrite from heterotrophic nitrate reduction. The aim of the present study was to find evidence for the existence of autotrophic nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers in coastal marine sediments. Microcosm incubations showed that with increasing incubation times, the stoichiometric ratio of reduced nitrate/oxidized Fe(II) [NO3reduced-/Fe(II)(oxidized)] decreased, indicating a decreasing contribution of heterotrophic denitrification and/or an increasing contribution of autotrophic nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidation over time. After incubations of sediment slurries for > 10 weeks, nitrate-reducing activity ceased, although nitrate was still present. This suggests that heterotrophic nitrate reduction had ceased due to the depletion of readily available organic carbon. However, after the addition of Fe(II) to these batch incubation mixtures, the nitrate-reducing activity resumed, and Fe(II) was oxidized, indicating the activity of autotrophic nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers. The concurrent reduction of C-14-labeled bicarbonate concentrations unambiguously proved that autotrophic C fixation occurred during Fe(II) oxidation and nitrate reduction. Our results clearly demonstrated that autotrophic nitrate-reducing Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria were present in the investigated coastal marine sediments.


Twenty years after the discovery of nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers, it is still controversially discussed whether autotrophic nitrate-reducing Fe(II)-oxidizing microorganisms exist and to what extent Fe(II) oxidation in this reduction/oxidation process is enzymatically catalyzed or which role abiotic side reactions of Fe(II) with reactive N species play. Most pure cultures of nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers are mixotrophic; i.e., they need an organic cosubstrate to maintain their activity over several cultural transfers. For the few existing autotrophic isolates and enrichment cultures, either the mechanism of nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidation is not known or evidence for their autotrophic lifestyle is controversial. In the present study, we provide evidence for the existence of autotrophic nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers in coastal marine sediments. The evidence is based on stoichiometries of nitrate reduction and Fe(II) oxidation determined in microcosm incubations and the incorporation of carbon from CO2 under conditions that favor the activity of nitrate-reducing Fe(II) oxidizers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Pages (from-to)6120-6131
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016

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