Ni G, Simone D, Palma D, Broman E, Wu X, Turner S, Dopson M
Front Microbiol 9 (-) 2945 [2018-12-05; online 2018-12-05]
Mining and processing of metal sulfide ores produces waters containing metals and inorganic sulfur compounds such as tetrathionate and thiosulfate. If released untreated, these sulfur compounds can be oxidized to generate highly acidic wastewaters [termed 'acid mine drainage (AMD)'] that cause severe environmental pollution. One potential method to remediate mining wastewaters is the maturing biotechnology of 'microbial fuel cells' that offers the sustainable removal of acid generating inorganic sulfur compounds alongside producing an electrical current. Microbial fuel cells exploit the ability of bacterial cells to transfer electrons to a mineral as the terminal electron acceptor during anaerobic respiration by replacing the mineral with a solid anode. In consequence, by substituting natural minerals with electrodes, microbial fuel cells also provide an excellent platform to understand environmental microbe-mineral interactions that are fundamental to element cycling. Previously, tetrathionate degradation coupled to the generation of an electrical current has been demonstrated and here we report a metagenomic and metatranscriptomic analysis of the microbial community. Reconstruction of inorganic sulfur compound metabolism suggested the substrate tetrathionate was metabolized by the Ferroplasma-like and Acidithiobacillus-like populations via multiple pathways. Characterized Ferroplasma species do not utilize inorganic sulfur compounds, suggesting a novel Ferroplasma-like population had been selected. Oxidation of intermediate sulfide, sulfur, thiosulfate, and adenylyl-sulfate released electrons and the extracellular electron transfer to the anode was suggested to be dominated by candidate soluble electron shuttles produced by the Ferroplasma-like population. However, as the soluble electron shuttle compounds also have alternative functions within the cell, it cannot be ruled out that acidophiles use novel, uncharacterized mechanisms to mediate extracellular electron transfer. Several populations within the community were suggested to metabolize intermediate inorganic sulfur compounds by multiple pathways, which highlights the potential for mutualistic or symbiotic relationships. This study provided the genetic base for acidophilic microbial fuel cells utilized for the remediation of inorganic sulfur compounds from AMD.