While typically investigated as a microorganism capable of extracellular electron transfer to minerals or anodes, Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 can also facilitate electron flow from a cathode to terminal electron acceptors, such as fumarate or oxygen, thereby providing a model system for a process that has significant environmental and technological implications. This work demonstrates that cathodic electrons enter the electron transport chain of S. oneidensis when oxygen is used as the terminal electron acceptor. The effect of electron transport chain inhibitors suggested that a proton gradient is generated during cathode oxidation, consistent with the higher cellular ATP levels measured in cathode-respiring cells than in controls. Cathode oxidation also correlated with an increase in the cellular redox (NADH/FMNH2) pool determined with a bioluminescence assay, a proton uncoupler, and a mutant of proton-pumping NADH oxidase complex I. This work suggested that the generation of NADH/FMNH2 under cathodic conditions was linked to reverse electron flow mediated by complex I. A decrease in cathodic electron uptake was observed in various mutant strains, including those lacking the extracellular electron transfer components necessary for anodic-current generation. While no cell growth was observed under these conditions, here we show that cathode oxidation is linked to cellular energy acquisition, resulting in a quantifiable reduction in the cellular decay rate. This work highlights a potential mechanism for cell survival and/or persistence on cathodes, which might extend to environments where growth and division are severely limited.
Serpentinization is a geologic process that produces highly reduced, hydrogen-rich fluids that support microbial communities under high pH conditions. We investigated the activity of microbes capable of extracellular electron transfer in a terrestrial serpentinizing system known as “The Cedars”. Measuring current generation with an on-site two-electrode system, we observed daily oscillations in current with the current maxima and minima occurring during daylight hours. Distinct members of the microbial community were enriched. Current generation in lab-scale electrochemical reactors did not oscillate, but was correlated with carbohydrate amendment in Cedars-specific minimal media. Gammaproteobacteria and Firmicutes were consistently enriched from lab electrochemical systems on δ-MnO2 and amorphous Fe(OH)3 at pH 11. However, isolation of an electrogenic strain proved difficult as transfer cultures failed to grow after multiple rounds of media transfer. Lowering the bulk pH in the media allowed us to isolate a Firmicutes strain (Paenibacillus sp.). This strain was capable of electrode and mineral reduction (including magnetite) at pH 9. This report provides evidence of the in situ activity of microbes using extracellular substrates as sinks for electrons at The Cedars, but also highlights the potential importance of community dynamics for supporting microbial life through either carbon fixation and/or moderating pH stress.
Little is known about the importance and/or mechanisms of biological mineral oxidation in sediments, partially due to the difficulties associated with culturing mineral-oxidizing microbes. We demonstrate that electrochemical enrichment is a feasible approach for isolation of microbes capable of gaining electrons from insoluble minerals. To this end we constructed sediment microcosms and incubated electrodes at various controlled redox potentials. Negative current production was observed in incubations and increased as redox potential decreased (tested −50 to −400 mV vs. Ag/AgCl). Electrode-associated biomass responded to the addition of nitrate and ferric iron as terminal electron acceptors in secondary sediment-free enrichments. Elemental sulfur, elemental iron and amorphous iron sulfide enrichments derived from electrode biomass demonstrated products indicative of sulfur or iron oxidation. The microbes isolated from these enrichments belong to the genera Halomonas, Idiomarina, Marinobacter, and Pseudomonas of the Gammaproteobacteria, and Thalassospira and Thioclava from the Alphaproteobacteria. Chronoamperometry data demonstrates sustained electrode oxidation from these isolates in the absence of alternate electron sources. Cyclic voltammetry demonstrated the variability in dominant electron transfer modes or interactions with electrodes (i.e., biofilm, planktonic or mediator facilitated) and the wide range of midpoint potentials observed for each microbe (from 8 to −295 mV vs. Ag/AgCl). The diversity of extracellular electron transfer mechanisms observed in one sediment and one redox condition, illustrates the potential importance and abundance of these interactions. This approach has promise for increasing our understanding the extent and diversity of microbe mineral interactions, as well as increasing the repository of microbes available for electrochemical applications.