Forty-three strains of obligately chemolithoautotrophic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria were isolated from highly alkaline soda lakes in south-east Siberia (Russia) and in Kenya using a specific enrichment procedure at pH 10. The main difference between the novel isolates and known sulfur bacteria was their potential to grow and oxidize sulfur compounds at pH 10 and higher. The isolates fell into two groups that were substantially different from each other physiologically and genetically. Most of the Siberian isolates belonged to the group with a low DNA G+C content (48.0-51.2 mol%). They were characterized by a high growth rate, a low growth yield, a high cytochrome content, and high rates of oxidation of sulfide and thiosulfate. This group included 18 isolates with a DNA homology of more than 40%, and it is described here as a new genus, Thioalkalimicrobium, with two species Thioalkalimicrobium aerophilum (type species) and Thioalkalimicrobium sibericum. The other isolates, mainly from Kenyan soda lakes, fell into a group with a high DNA G+C content (61.0-65.6 mol%). In general, this group was characterized by a low growth rate, a high molar growth yield and low, but relatively equal, rates of oxidation of thiosulfate, sulfide, elemental sulfur and polythionates. The group included 25 isolates with a DNA homology of more than 30%. It was less compact than Thioalkalimicrobium, containing haloalkalophilic, carotenoid-producing, nitrate-reducing and facultatively anaerobic denitrifying strains. These bacteria are proposed to be assigned to a new genus, Thioalkalivibrio, with three species Thioalkalivibrio versutus (type species), Thioalkalivibrio denitrificans and Thioalkalivibrio nitratis. Phylogenetic analysis revealed that both groups belong to the gamma-Proteobacteria. The Thioalkalimicrobium species were closely affiliated with the neutrophilic chemolithoautotrophic sulfur bacteria of the genus Thiomicrospira, forming a new alkaliphilic lineage in this cluster. In contrast, Thioalkalivibrio was not related to any known chemolithoautotrophic taxa, but was distantly associated with anaerobic purple sulfur bacteria of the genus Ectothiorhodospira.


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