Genomic insights into microbial iron oxidation and iron uptake strategies in extremely acidic environments

Violaine Bonnefoy, David S. Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

158 Citations (Scopus)


This minireview presents recent advances in our understanding of iron oxidation and homeostasis in acidophilic Bacteria and Archaea. These processes influence the flux of metals and nutrients in pristine and man-made acidic environments such as acid mine drainage and industrial bioleaching operations. Acidophiles are also being studied to understand life in extreme conditions and their role in the generation of biomarkers used in the search for evidence of existing or past extra-terrestrial life. Iron oxidation in acidophiles is best understood in the model organism Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans. However, recent functional genomic analysis of acidophiles is leading to a deeper appreciation of the diversity of acidophilic iron-oxidizing pathways. Although it is too early to paint a detailed picture of the role played by lateral gene transfer in the evolution of iron oxidation, emerging evidence tends to support the view that iron oxidation arose independently more than once in evolution. Acidic environments are generally rich in soluble iron and extreme acidophiles (e.g. the Leptospirillum genus) have considerably fewer iron uptake systems compared with neutrophiles. However, some acidophiles have been shown to grow as high as pH 6 and, in the case of the Acidithiobacillus genus, to have multiple iron uptake systems. This could be an adaption allowing them to respond to different iron concentrations via the use of a multiplicity of different siderophores. Both Leptospirillum spp. and Acidithiobacillus spp. are predicted to synthesize the acid stable citrate siderophore for Fe(III) uptake. In addition, both groups have predicted receptors for siderophores produced by other microorganisms, suggesting that competition for iron occurs influencing the ecophysiology of acidic environments. Little is known about the genetic regulation of iron oxidation and iron uptake in acidophiles, especially how the use of iron as an energy source is balanced with its need to take up iron for metabolism. It is anticipated that integrated and complex regulatory networks sensing different environmental signals, such as the energy source and/or the redox state of the cell as well as the oxygen availability, are involved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1597-1611
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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