Microbial substrate preference dictated by energy demand rather than supply

Maximiliano J. Amenabar, Everett Shock, Eric E. Roden, John W. Peters, Eric S. Boyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Growth substrates that maximize energy yield are widely thought to be utilized preferentially by microorganisms. However, observed distributions of microorganisms and their activities often deviate from predictions based solely on thermodynamic considerations of substrate energy supply. Here we present observations of the bioenergetics and growth yields of a metabolically flexible, thermophilic strain of the archaeon Acidianus when grown autotrophically on minimal medium with hydrogen (H2) or elemental sulfur (So) as an electron donor, and So or ferric iron (Fe3+) as an electron acceptor. Thermodynamic calculations indicate that So/Fe3+ and H2/Fe3+ yield three- and fourfold more energy per mole of electrons transferred, respectively, than the H2/So couple. However, biomass yields in Acidianus cultures provided with H2/So were eightfold greater than when provided So/Fe3+ or H2/Fe3+, indicating that the H2/So redox couple is preferred. Indeed, cells provided with all three growth substrates (H2, Fe3+ and So) grew preferentially by reduction of So with H2. We conclude that substrate preference is dictated by differences in the energy demand of electron transfer reactions in Acidianus when grown with different substrates, rather than substrate energy supply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)577-581
Number of pages5
JournalNature Geoscience
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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