Microbial disproportionation of elemental sulfur to sulfide and sulfate is a poorly characterized part of the anoxic sulfur cycle. So far, only a few bacterial strains have been described that can couple this reaction to cell growth. Continuous removal of the produced sulfide, for instance by oxidation and/or precipitation with metal ions such as iron, is essential to keep the reaction exergonic. Hitherto, the process has exclusively been reported for neutrophilic anaerobic bacteria. Here, we report for the first time disproportionation of elemental sulfur by three pure cultures of haloalkaliphilic bacteria isolated from soda lakes: the Deltaproteobacteria Desulfurivibrio alkaliphilus and Desulfurivibrio sp. AMeS2, and a member of the Clostridia, Dethiobacter alkaliphilus. All cultures grew in saline media at pH 10 by sulfur disproportionation in the absence of metals as sulfide scavengers. Our data indicate that polysulfides are the dominant sulfur species under highly alkaline conditions and that they might be disproportionated. Furthermore, we report the first organism (Dt. alkaliphilus) from the class Clostridia that is able to grow by sulfur disproportionation.
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