Thiobacillus ferrooxidans is a gram-negative, highly acidophilic (pH 1.5 to 2.0), autotrophic bacterium that obtains its energy through the oxidation of ferrous iron or reduced inorganic sulfur compounds. It is usually dominant in the mixed bacterial populations that are used industrially for the extraction of metals such as copper and uranium from their ores. More recently, these bacterial consortia have been used for the biooxidation of refractory gold-bearing arsenopyrite ores prior to the recovery of gold by cyanidation. The commercial use of T. ferrooxidans has led to an increasing interest in the genetics and molecular biology of the bacterium. Initial investigations were aimed at determining whether the unique physiology and specialized habitat of T. ferrooxidans had been accompanied by a high degree of genetic drift from other gram-negative bacteria. Early genetic studies were comparative in nature and concerned the isolation of genes such as nifHDK, glnA, and recA, which are widespread among bacteria. From a molecular biology viewpoint, T. ferrooxidans appears to be a typical member of the proteobacteria. In most instances, cloned gene promoters and protein products have been functional in Escherichia coli. Although T. ferrooxidans has proved difficult to transform with DNA, research on indigenous plasmids and the isolation of the T. ferrooxidans merA gene have resulted in the development of a low-efficiency electroporation system for one strain of T. ferrooxidans. The most recent studies have focused on the molecular genetics of the pathways associated with nitrogen metabolism, carbon dioxide fixation, and components of the energy-producing mechanisms.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology