The sequence of the dsr gene region of the phototrophic sulfur bacterium Chromatium vinosum D (DSMZ 180) was determined to clarify the in vivo role of ‘reverse’ sirohaem sulfite reductase. The dsrAB genes encoding dissimilatory sulfite reductase are part of a gene cluster, dsrABEFHCMK, that encodes four small, soluble proteins (DsrE, DsrF, DsrH and DsrC), a transmembrane protein (DsrM) with similarity to haem-b-binding polypeptides and a soluble protein (DsrK) resembling [4Fe---4S]-cluster-containing heterodisulfide reductase from methanogenic archaea. Northern hybridizations showed that expression of the dsr genes is increased by the presence of reduced sulfur compounds. The dsr genes are not only transcribed from a putative promoter upstream of dsrA but primary transcripts originating from (a) transcription start site(s) downstream of dsrB are also formed. Polar insertion mutations immediately upstream of dsrA, and in dsrB, dsrH and dsrM, led to an inability of the cells to oxidize intracellularly stored sulfur. The capability of the mutants to oxidize sulfide, thiosulfate and sulfite under photolithoautotrophic conditions was unaltered. Photoorganoheterotrophic growth was also unaffected. ‘Reverse’ sulfite reductase and DsrEFHCMK are, therefore, not essential for oxidation of sulfide or thiosulfate, but are obligatory for sulfur oxidation. These results, together with the finding that the sulfur globules of C. vinosum are located in the extracytoplasmic space whilst the dsr gene products appear to be either cytoplasmic or membrane-bound led to the proposal of new models for the pathway of sulfur oxidation in this phototrophic sulfur bacterium.


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