Langmuir, Vol.31, No.26, 7427-7434, 2015
Sulfur-Mediated Electron Shuttling Sustains Microbial Long-Distance Extracellular Electron Transfer with the Aid of Metallic Iron Sulfides
In addition to serving as an energy source for microbial growth, iron sulfides are proposed to act as naturally occurring electrical wires that mediate long-distance extracellular electron transfer (EET) and bridge spatially discrete redox environments. These hypothetical EET reactions stand on the abilities of microbes to use the interfacial electrochemistry of metallic/semiconductive iron sulfides to maintain metabolisms; however, the mechanisms of these phenomena remain unexplored. To obtain insight into EET to iron sulfides, we monitored EET at the interface between Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 cells and biomineralized iron sulfides in an electrochemical cell. Respiratory current steeply increased with the concomitant formation of poorly crystalline mackinawite (FeS) minerals, indicating that S. oneidensis has the ability to exploit extracellularly formed metallic FeS for long-distance EET. Deletion of major proteins of the metal-reduction (Mtr) pathway (OmcA, MtrC, CymA, and PilD) caused only subtle effects on the EET efficiency, a finding that sharply contrasts the majority of studies that report that the Mtr pathway is indispensable for the reduction of metal oxides and electrodes. The gene expression analyses of polysulfide and thiosulfate reductase suggest the existence of a sulfur-mediated electron-shuttling mechanism by which HS- ions and water-soluble polysulfides (HSn-, where n >= 2) generated in the periplasmic space deliver electrons from cellular metabolic processes to cell surface-associated FeS. The finding of this Mtr-independent pathway indicates that polysulfide reductases complement the function of outer-membrane cytochromes in EET reactions and, thus, significantly expand the number of microbial species potentially capable of long-distance EET in sulfur-rich anoxic environments.