Brimstone Basin, in southeastern Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming is an ancient hydrothermal area containing solfataric alteration. Drainage waters flowing from Brimstone Basin had pH values as low as 1.23 and contained up to 1.7×106 MPN/ml acidophilic sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. Thiobacillus thiooxidans was the dominant sulfur-oxidizing bacterium recovered from an enrichment culture and was used in a structural examination of bacterial sulfur oxidation. Growth in these sulfur cultures occurred in two phases with cells in association with the macroscopic sulfur grains and in suspension above these grains. Colonization of sulfur grains by individual cells and microcolonies was facilitated by organic material that appeared to be responsible for bacterial adhesion. Transmission electron microscopy of negatively stained (2% [wt./vol.] uranyl acetate), sulfur-grown T. thiooxidans revealed extensive membrane blebbing (sloughing of outer membrane vesicles) and the presence of approximately 100 nm sized sulfur particles adsorbed to membrane material surrounding individual bacteria. Sulfite-grown bacteria did not possess membrane blebs. The amphipathic nature of these outer membrane vesicles appear to be responsible for overcoming the hydrophobic barrier necessary for the growth of T. thiooxidans on elemental sulfur.
Additional publication details
The role of "blebbing" in overcoming the hydrophobic barrier during biooxidation of elemental sulfur by Thiobacillus thiooxidans