Background. Iron is an essential nutrient but can be toxic at high intracellular concentrations and organisms have evolved tightly regulated mechanisms for iron uptake and homeostasis. Information on iron management mechanisms is available for organisms living at circumneutral pH. However, very little is known about how acidophilic bacteria, especially those used for industrial copper bioleaching, cope with environmental iron loads that can be 1018 times the concentration found in pH neutral environments. This study was motivated by the need to fill this lacuna in knowledge. An understanding of how microorganisms thrive in acidic ecosystems with high iron loads requires a comprehensive investigation of the strategies to acquire iron and to coordinate this acquisition with utilization, storage and oxidation of iron through metal responsive regulation. In silico prediction of iron management genes and Fur regulation was carried out for three Acidithiobacilli: Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans (iron and sulfur oxidizer) A. thiooxidans and A. caldus (sulfur oxidizers) that can live between pH 1 and pH 5 and for three strict iron oxidizers of the Leptospirillum genus that live at pH 1 or below. Results. Acidithiobacilli have predicted FeoB-like Fe(II) and Nramp-like Fe(II)-Mn(II) transporters. They also have 14 different TonB dependent ferri-siderophore transporters of diverse siderophore affinity, although they do not produce classical siderophores. Instead they have predicted novel mechanisms for dicitrate synthesis and possibly also for phosphate-chelation mediated iron uptake. It is hypothesized that the unexpectedly large number and diversity of Fe(III)-uptake systems confers versatility to this group of acidophiles, especially in higher pH environments (pH 4-5) where soluble iron may not be abundant. In contrast, Leptospirilla have only a FtrI-Fet3P-like permease and three TonB dependent ferri-dicitrate siderophore systems. This paucity of iron uptake systems could reflect their obligatory occupation of extremely low pH environments where high concentrations of soluble iron may always be available and were oxidized sulfur species might not compromise iron speciation dynamics. Presence of bacterioferritin in the Acidithiobacilli, polyphosphate accumulation functions and variants of FieF-like diffusion facilitators in both Acidithiobacilli and Leptospirilla, indicate that they may remove or store iron under conditions of variable availability. In addition, the Fe(II)-oxidizing capacity of both A. ferrooxidans and Leptospirilla could itself be a way to evade iron stress imposed by readily available Fe(II) ions at low pH. Fur regulatory sites have been predicted for a number of gene clusters including iron related and non-iron related functions in both the Acidithiobacilli and Leptospirilla, laying the foundation for the future discovery of iron regulated and iron-phosphate coordinated regulatory control circuits. Conclusion. In silico analyses of the genomes of acidophilic bacteria are beginning to tease apart the mechanisms that mediate iron uptake and homeostasis in low pH environments. Initial models pinpoint significant differences in abundance and diversity of iron management mechanisms between Leptospirilla and Acidithiobacilli, and begin to reveal how these two groups respond to iron cycling and iron fluctuations in naturally acidic environments and in industrial operations. Niche partitions and ecological successions between acidophilic microorganisms may be partially explained by these observed differences. Models derived from these analyses pave the way for improved hypothesis testing and well directed experimental investigation. In addition, aspects of these models should challenge investigators to evaluate alternative iron management strategies in non-acidophilic model organisms.
Áreas temáticas de ASJC Scopus
- Microbiología (médica)