Another chemolithotrophic metabolism missing in nature: sulfur comproportionation

Jan P. Amend, Heidi S. Aronson, Jennifer Macalady, Douglas E. LaRowe

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Chemotrophic microorganisms gain energy for cellular functions by catalyzing oxidation–reduction (redox) reactions that are out of equilibrium. Calculations of the Gibbs energy (ΔGr) can identify whether a reaction is thermodynamically favourable and quantify the accompanying energy yield at the temperature, pressure and chemical composition in the system of interest. Based on carefully calculated values of ΔGr, we predict a novel microbial metabolism – sulfur comproportionation (3H2S + (Formula presented.) + 2H+ ⇌ 4S0 + 4H2O). We show that at elevated concentrations of sulfide and sulfate in acidic environments over a broad temperature range, this putative metabolism can be exergonic (ΔGr<0), yielding ~30–50 kJ mol−1. We suggest that this may be sufficient energy to support a chemolithotrophic metabolism currently missing from the literature. Other versions of this metabolism, comproportionation to thiosulfate (H2S + (Formula presented.) ⇌ (Formula presented.) + H2O) and to sulfite (H2S + 3 (Formula presented.) ⇌ 4 (Formula presented.) + 2H+), are only moderately exergonic or endergonic even at ideal geochemical conditions. Natural and impacted environments, including sulfidic karst systems, shallow-sea hydrothermal vents, sites of acid mine drainage, and acid–sulfate crater lakes, may be ideal hunting grounds for finding microbial sulfur comproportionators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1971-1976
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental microbiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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