Biology of Green Sulfur Bacteria


Green sulfur bacteria have gained much attention because of a number of highly interesting features including unique structures of the photosynthetic apparatus and the presence of chlorosomes as very powerful light antenna that can capture minute amounts of light. This has important ecological consequences, because the efficient light‐harvesting determines the ecological niche of these bacteria at the lowermost part of stratified environments where the least of light is available. Furthermore, the strict dependency on photosynthesis to provide energy for growth and the obligate phototrophy of green sulfur bacteria together with their characteristic sulfur metabolism have provoked much interest in their physiology, ecology and genomics. The oxidation of sulfide as their outmost important photosynthetic electron donor involves the deposition of elemental sulfur globules outside the cells and separates the process of sulfide oxidation to sulfate into two parts. This is the basis for stable syntrophic associations between green sulfur bacteria and sulfur‐ and sulfate‐reducing bacteria in which the sulfur compounds are recycled. The green sulfur bacteria are distantly related to other bacteria and represent the phylum Chlorobi, though the known representatives are taxonomically treated as Chlorobiaceae with the genera Chlorobium, Chlorobaculum, Prosthecochloris and Chloroherpeton.

Key Concepts:

  • Green sulfur bacteria depend on light for life due to their obligate phototrophic metabolism.

  • Green sulfur bacteria perform a highly efficient photosynthesis due to the presence of light harvesting organelles, the chlorosomes, which are filled with special bacteriochlorophyll molecules.

  • Green sulfur bacteria inhabit the lowermost part of the photic environments due to their efficient light capture.

  • Green sulfur bacteria inhabit the lowermost part of the chemocline in the stratified environment due to their sensitivity to oxygen, their high sulfide tolerance and their dependence in light.

  • Green sulfur bacteria are important drivers of oxidation of reduced sulfur compounds in the stratified, sulfide‐containing environment receiving low irradiation.

Keywords: green sulfur bacteria; Chlorobiaceae; phototrophic bacteria; chlorosomes; sulfur metabolism; phylogenetic taxonomy

Figure 1.

Phylogenetic tree of green sulfur bacteria based on 16S rRNA gene sequences showing the relationships within the family Chlorobiaceae calculated by the maximum likelihood method. The tree was constructed using PhyML 3.0 with Model TN93. The topology based on the ARB backbone tree was used as starting tree. Bootstrap values (>50%) are indicated at the nodes. The scale bar represents 10 nucleotide substitutions per 100 nucleotides. Strain numbers and GenBank accession numbers for 16S rRNA gene sequences are shown after the species names. Reproduced from Imhoff and Thiel (2010), with kind permission from Springer science+Business Media. © Springer.



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Further Reading

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Imhoff, Johannes F(Jun 2014) Biology of Green Sulfur Bacteria. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000458.pub2]