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Fluorescent properties of c-type cytochromes reveal their potential role as an extracytoplasmic electron sink in Geobacter sulfurreducens


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A novel fluorescence technique for monitoring the redox status of c-type cytochromes in Geobacter sulfurreducens was developed in order to evaluate the capacity of these extracytoplasmic cytochromes to store electrons during periods in which an external electron acceptor is not available. When intact cells in which the cytochromes were in a reduced state were excited at a wavelength of 350 nm, they fluoresced with maxima at 402 and 437 nm. Oxidation of the cytochromes resulted in a loss of fluorescence. This method was much more sensitive than the traditional approach of detecting c-type cytochromes via visible light absorbance. Furthermore, fluorescence of reduced cytochromes in individual cells could be detected via fluorescence microscopy, and the cytochromes in a G. sulfurreducens biofilm, remotely excited with an optical fibre, could be detected at distances as far as 5 cm. Fluorescence analysis of cytochrome oxidation and reduction of the external electron acceptor, anthraquinone-2,6-disulfonate, suggested that the extracytoplasmic cytochromes of G. sulfurreducens could store approximately 107 electrons per cell. Independent analysis of the haem content of the cells determined from analysis of incorporation of 55Fe into cytochromes provided a similar estimate of cytochrome electron-storage capacity. This electron-storage capacity could, in the absence of an external electron acceptor, permit continued electron transfer across the inner membrane sufficient to supply the maintenance energy requirements for G. sulfurreducens for up to 8 min or enough proton motive force to power flagella motors for G. sulfurreducens motility. The fluorescence approach described here provides a sensitive method for evaluating the redox status of Geobacter species in culture and/or its environments. Furthermore, these results suggest that the periplasmic and outer-membrane cytochromes of Geobacter species act as capacitors, allowing continued electron transport, and thus viability and motility, for Geobacter species as they move between heterogeneously dispersed Fe(III) oxides during growth in the subsurface.

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