Clostridia are strictly anaerobic or moderately aerotolerant bacteria, gaining adenosine triphosphate (ATP) mostly by substrate level phosphorylation. However, electron transport chains and membrane pumps for H+ or Na+ extrusion are also found. These ions are then used for energy conservation by respective ATPases. A variety of heterotrophic compounds can be degraded, and a number of different fermentation pathways are employed. Several clostridia are also able of autotrophic growth, using CO2 and CO as carbon source. Sophisticated methods for culturing and genetic manipulation are established. Several pathogenic species belong to the genus, but even some of the toxins are meanwhile used in therapy, research and cosmetic industry. Biotechnologically important are clostridial enzymes, the clostridial solvent production and cancer therapy by recombinant clostridial endospores. A recent industrial application at large scale is the production of bulk and fine chemicals from waste gases, especially synthesis gas.

Key Concepts

  • Clostridia are composing a taxonomically diverse group, which undergoes frequent reclassification.
  • Clostridia are anaerobic (sometimes not strictly) and form endospores, which is the cause for their ubiquitous occurrence.
  • Members of the genus Clostridium are nutritionally extremely versatile, able to degrade a large variety of heterotrophic substrates and able to grow under autotrophic conditions.
  • Clostridia participate to a large extent in biogeochemical cycles (e.g. of carbon, nitrogen and metals).
  • Few clostridia produce one or several toxins, however, among these toxins are the most potent known (botulinum toxin).
  • Both, clostridial toxins and clostridial cells are already used as or being developed into medical applications for therapy.
  • Autotrophic clostridia gained industrial relevance and are being used for converting waste gases into bulk and fine chemicals.

Keywords: autotrophy; bioremediation; endospores; enzymes; industrial applications; solvents; toxins


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Dürre, Peter(Dec 2015) Clostridia. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0020370.pub2]