Nitrite reductase activity of sulphate-reducing bacteria prevents their inhibition by nitrate-reducing, sulphide-oxidizing bacteria


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Sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB) can be inhibited by nitrate-reducing, sulphide-oxidizing bacteria (NR-SOB), despite the fact that these two groups are interdependent in many anaerobic environments. Practical applications of this inhibition include the reduction of sulphide concentrations in oil fields by nitrate injection. The NR-SOB Thiomicrospira sp. strain CVO was found to oxidize up to 15 mM sulphide, considerably more than three other NR-SOB strains that were tested. Sulphide oxidation increased the environmental redox potential (Eh) from −400 to +100 mV and gave 0.6 nitrite per nitrate reduced. Within the genus Desulfovibrio, strains Lac3 and Lac6 were inhibited by strain CVO and nitrate for the duration of the experiment, whereas inhibition of strains Lac15 and D. vulgaris Hildenborough was transient. The latter had very high nitrite reductase (Nrf) activity. Southern blotting with D. vulgaris nrf genes as a probe indicated the absence of homologous nrf genes from strains Lac3 and Lac6 and their presence in strain Lac15. With respect to SRB from other genera, inhibition of the known nitrite reducer Desulfobulbus propionicus by strain CVO and nitrate was transient, whereas inhibition of Desulfobacterium autotrophicum and Desulfobacter postgatei was long-lasting. The results indicate that inhibition of SRB by NR-SOB is caused by nitrite production. Nrf-containing SRB can overcome this inhibition by further reducing nitrite to ammonia, preventing a stalling of the favourable metabolic interactions between these two bacterial groups. Nrf, which is widely distributed in SRB, can thus be regarded as a resistance factor that prevents the inhibition of dissimilatory sulphate reduction by nitrite.