Sulfur Isotope Fractionation by Sulfate-Reducing Microbes Can Reflect Past Physiology. Journal Article uri icon



  • Sulfur (S) isotope fractionation by sulfate-reducing microorganisms is a direct manifestation of their respiratory metabolism. This fractionation is apparent in the substrate (sulfate) and waste (sulfide) produced. The sulfate-reducing metabolism responds to variability in the local environment, with the response determined by the underlying genotype, resulting in the expression of an "isotope phenotype". Sulfur isotope phenotypes have been used as a diagnostic tool for the metabolic activity of sulfate-reducing microorganisms in the environment. Our experiments with Desulfovibrio vulgaris Hildenborough (DvH) grown in batch culture suggest that the S isotope phenotype of sulfate respiring microbes may lag environmental changes on time scales that are longer than generational. When inocula from different phases of growth are assayed under the same environmental conditions, we observed that DvH exhibited different net apparent fractionations of up to -9‰. The magnitude of fractionation was weakly correlated with physiological parameters but was strongly correlated to the age of the initial inoculum. The S isotope fractionation observed between sulfate and sulfide showed a positive correlation with respiration rate, contradicting the well-described negative dependence of fractionation on respiration rate. Quantitative modeling of S isotope fractionation shows that either a large increase (≈50×) in the abundance of sulfate adenylyl transferase (Sat) or a smaller increase in sulfate transport proteins (≈2×) is sufficient to account for the change in fractionation associated with past physiology. Temporal transcriptomic studies with DvH imply that expression of sulfate permeases doubles over the transition from early exponential to early stationary phase, lending support to the transport hypothesis proposed here. As it is apparently maintained for multiple generations (≈1-6) of subsequent growth in the assay environment, we suggest that this fractionation effect acts as a sort of isotopic "memory" of a previous physiological and environmental state. Whatever its root cause, this physiological hysteresis effect can explain variations in fractionations observed in many environments. It may also enable new insights into life at energetic limits, especially if its historical footprint extends deeper than generational.

publication date

  • April 3, 2018

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • March 29, 2018 1:34 AM

Full Author List

  • Pellerin A; Wenk CB; Halevy I; Wing BA

author count

  • 4

Other Profiles

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1520-5851

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 4013

end page

  • 4022


  • 52


  • 7