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Characterization of Large, Autotrophic Beggiatoa spp. Abundant at Hydrothermal Vents of the Guaymas Basin †

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  • General Microbial Ecology
  • Biology
  • Earth Science
  • Ecology
  • Geography


Filamentous bacteria, identified as members of the genus Beggiatoa by gliding motility and internal globules of elemental sulfur, occur in massive aggregations at the deep-sea hydrothermal vents of the Guaymas Basin, Gulf of California. Cell aggregates covering the surface of sulfide-emanating sediments and rock chimneys were collected by DS R/V Alvin and subjected to shipboard and laboratory experiments. Each sample collected contained one to three discrete width classes of this organism usually accompanied by a small number of “flexibacteria” (width, 1.5 to 4 μm). The average widths of the Beggiatoa classes were 24 to 32, 40 to 42, and 116 to 122 μm. As indicated by electron microscopy and cell volume/protein ratios, the dominant bacteria are hollow cells, i.e., a thin layer of cytoplasm surrounding a large central liquid vacuole. Activities of Calvin-cycle enzymes indicated that at least two of the classes collected possess autotrophic potential. Judging from temperature dependence of enzyme activities and whole-cell CO2 incorporation, the widest cells were mesophiles. The narrowest Beggiatoa sp. was either moderately thermophilic or mesophilic with unusually thermotolerant enzymes. This was consistent with its occurrence on the flanks of hot smoker chimneys with highly variable exit temperatures. In situ CO2 fixation rates, sulfide stimulation of incorporation, and autoradiographic studies suggest that these Beggiatoa spp. contribute significantly as lithoautrophic primary producers to the Guaymas Basin vent ecosystems.

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