Throughout the first 90 years after their discovery, sulfate-reducing bacteria were thought to be strict anaerobes. During the last 15 years, however, it has turned out that they have manifold properties that enable them to cope with oxygen. Sulfate-reducing bacteria not only survive oxygen exposure for at least days, but many of them even reduce oxygen to water. This process can be a true respiration process when it is coupled to energy conservation. Various oxygen-reducing systems are present in species. In and , oxygen reduction was coupled to proton translocation and ATP conservation. In these species, the periplasmic fraction, which contains hydrogenase and cytochrome , was found to catalyze oxygen reduction with high rates. In , a cytoplasmic rubredoxin oxidase was identified as an oxygen-reducing terminal oxidase. Generally, the same substrates as with sulfate are oxidized with oxygen. As additional electron donors, reduced sulfur compounds can be oxidized to sulfate. Sulfate-reducing bacteria are thus able to catalyze all reactions of a complete sulfur cycle. Despite a high respiration rate and energy coupling, aerobic growth of pure cultures is poor or absent. Instead, the respiration capacity appears to have a protective function. High numbers of sulfate-reducing bacteria are present in the oxic zones and near the oxic-anoxic boundaries of sediments and in stratified water bodies, microbial mats and termite guts. Community structure analyses and microbiological studies have shown that the populations in those zones are especially adapted to oxygen. How dissimilatory sulfate reduction can occur in the presence of oxygen is still enigmatic, because in pure culture oxygen blocks sulfate reduction. Behavioral responses to oxygen include aggregation, migration to anoxic zones, and aerotaxis. The latter leads to band formation in oxygen-containing zones at concentrations of ≤20% air saturation.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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