This work shines light on the role of extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) in the formation and preservation of elemental sulfur biominerals produced by sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. We characterized elemental sulfur particles produced within a Sulfurovum-rich biofilm in the Frasassi Cave System (Italy). The particles adopt spherical and bipyramidal morphologies, and display both stable (α-S8) and metastable (β-S8) crystal structures. Elemental sulfur is embedded within a dense matrix of EPS, and the particles are surrounded by organic envelopes rich in amide and carboxylic groups. Organic encapsulation and the presence of metastable crystal structures are consistent with elemental sulfur organomineralization, i.e., the formation and stabilization of elemental sulfur in the presence of organics, a mechanism that has previously been observed in laboratory studies. This research provides new evidence for the important role of microbial EPS in mineral formation in the environment. We hypothesize that the extracellular organics are used by sulfur-oxidizing bacteria for the stabilization of elemental sulfur minerals outside of the cell wall as a store of chemical energy. The stabilization of energy sources (in the form of a solid electron acceptor) in biofilms is a potential new role for microbial EPS that requires further investigation.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Microbiology (medical)