Autotrophic microbial arsenotrophy in arsenic-rich soda lakes

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A number of prokaryotes are capable of employing arsenic oxy-anions as either electron acceptors [arsenate; As(V)] or electron donors [arsenite; As(III)] to sustain arsenic-dependent growth (‘arsenotrophy'). A subset of these microorganisms function as either chemoautotrophs or photoautotrophs, whereby they gain sufficient energy from their redox metabolism of arsenic to completely satisfy their carbon needs for growth by autotrophy, that is the fixation of inorganic carbon (e.g. HCO3−) into their biomass. Here we review what has been learned of these processes by investigations we have undertaken in three soda lakes of the western USA and from the physiological characterizations of the relevant bacteria, which include the critical genes involved, such as respiratory arsenate reductase (arrA) and the discovery of its arsenite-oxidizing counterpart (arxA). When possible, we refer to instances of similar process occurring in other, less extreme ecosystems and by microbes other than haloalkaliphiles.

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