Disproportionation of Inorganic Sulfur Compounds by Mesophilic Chemolithoautotrophic Campylobacterota

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Wang, S., Jiang, L., Xie, S., Alain, K., Wang, Z., Wang, J., Liu, D.  & Shao, Z. (2023)

The disproportionation of inorganic sulfur compounds could be widespread in natural habitats, and microorganisms could produce energy to support primary productivity through this catabolism. However, the microorganisms that carry this process out and the catabolic pathways at work remain relatively unstudied. Here, we investigated the bacterial diversity involved in sulfur disproportionation in hydrothermal plumes from Carlsberg Ridge in the northwestern Indian Ocean by enrichment cultures. A bacterial community analysis revealed that bacteria of the genera Sulfurimonas and Sulfurovum, belonging to the phylum Campylobacterota and previously having been characterized as chemolithoautotrophic sulfur oxidizers, were the most dominant members in six enrichment cultures. Subsequent bacterial isolation and physiological studies confirmed that five Sulfurimonas and Sulfurovum isolates could disproportionate thiosulfate and elemental sulfur. The ability to disproportionate sulfur was also demonstrated in several strains of Sulfurimonas and Sulfurovum that were isolated from hydrothermal vents or other natural environments. Dialysis membrane experiments showed that S  disproportionation did not require the direct contact of cells with bulk sulfur. A comparative genomic analysis showed that Campylobacterota strains did not contain some genes of the Dsr and rDSR pathways (aprAB, dsrAB, dsrC, dsrMKJOP, and qmoABC) that are involved in sulfur disproportionation in some other taxa, suggesting the existence of an unrevealed catabolic pathway for sulfur disproportionation. These findings provide evidence for the catabolic versatility of these Campylobacterota genera, which are widely distributed in chemosynthetic environments, and expand our knowledge of the microbial taxa involved in this reaction of the biogeochemical sulfur cycle in hydrothermal vent environments.

IMPORTANCE The phylum Campylobacterota, notably represented by the genera Sulfurimonas and Sulfurovum, is ubiquitous and predominant in deep-sea hydrothermal systems. It is well-known to be the major chemolithoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing group in these habitats. Herein, we show that the mesophilic predominant chemolithoautotrophs of the genera Sulfurimonas and Sulfurovum could grow via sulfur disproportionation to gain energy. This is the first report of the chemolithoautotrophic disproportionation of thiosulfate and elemental sulfur within the genera Sulfurimonas and Sulfurovum, and this comes in addition to their already known role in the chemolithoautotrophic oxidation of sulfur compounds. Sulfur disproportionation via chemolithoautotrophic Campylobacterota may represent a previously unrecognized primary production process in hydrothermal vent ecosystems.