Metallosphaera sedula

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Metallosphaera sedula, Gertrud et. al.

Domain: Archaea
Phylum: Crenarchaeota
Class: Thermoprotei
Order: Sulfolobales
Family: Sulfolobaceae
Genus: Metallosphaera


NCBI: Taxonomy

Metallosphaera sedula

Description and Significance

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Percent pyrite removal by M. sedula(black) and control (white). Clark et. al.

Originally isolated from a volcanic field in Italy, Metallosphaera sedula can be roughly translated into “metal mobilizing sphere” with the word “sedulus” meaning busy, describing its efficiency in mobilizing metals. M. sedula is a highly thermoacidophilic Achaean that is unusually tolerant of heavy metals[1].

Due to its ability to ability to oxidize pyrite (FeS2), M. sedula has the potential to be used for coal depyritization [3]. With increased awareness of the environmental impact of the combustion of coals, the idea of “clean coal” was born. While there are several focuses of “clean coal”, one of which is the removal of impurities, such as sulfur found in pyrite, prior to combustion. The combustion of sulfur leads to the formation of SO2, which has adverse health effects, and contributes to acid rain [4,5].

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M. sedula adhered to surface of FeS2. Auernik et al 2008

Abiotic removal of pyrite from coal is currently the preferred method, as opposed to biotic extraction via microorganisms; however, the process is feasible. Other organisms have been studied for the purpose of coal depyritization (for example, Thiobacillus ferroxidans), however the process occurs at a slower rate than traditional abiotic removal. [6] M. sedula, being thermophilic, is tolerant of higher temperatures which result in faster extraction rates than other organisms, and a strong candidate for future use in coal depyritization [3,6].

Genome Structure

M. sedula contains a single, circular chromosome which is approximately 2.2 million base pairs in length. It encodes for around 2300 proteins, some of which are necessary for metal tolerance and adhesion. The function for 35% of the proteins is currently unknown and for this reason they are called hypothetical proteins. Based on sequence comparisons, M. sedula is most closely related to members of the genus Sulfolobus.[11]

Cell Structure, Metabolism and Life Cycle

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3-hydroxypropionate cycle. Alber, Kung and Fuchs 2008

M. sedula is a cocci, roughly 1um in diameter with pilus-like structures protruding from its surface when viewed via electron microscopy [1].

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Chalcopyrite leaching. Left to right, control, M. sedula no H2, M. sedula in presence of H2 and another control. Auernik and Kelly 2010

M. Sedula is an obligate aerobe that grows best at 75C and pH 2.0 [1]. The high level of physiological diversity it displaces is relatively unique amongst extremophiles. It is capable of heterotrophic growth using complex organic molecules (with the exception of sugars [1]), autotrophic growth by the fixation of carbon dioxide in the presence of H2 through an proposed modified 3-hydroxypropionate cycle [8], and its highest rates of growth are seen when grown mixotropically on casamino acids and metal sulfides [2]. The dissimilatory oxidation of iron and sulfur in M. sedula, driven by its membrane oxidases, is key to M. sedula’s ability to mobilize metals and bioleach. When grown in the presence of H2, the ability of M. sedula to leach copper from chalcopyrite (CuFeS2), is reduced [7].

Ecology and Pathogenesis

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Iron, Sulfur and Carbon cycling in AMD. Baker and Banfield 2002

M. sedula can be found in sulfur rich hot springs, volcanic fields, and in acid mine drainage (AMD) communities. These communities are characterized by high metal ion concentrations, low pH and high temperatures. [1] [9] [10]

Though the dissolution of pyrite in AMD is a natural process, it is accelerated the presence of acidophiles such as M. sedula that are found in these environments, thus leading to increased rates of acidification of water draining for active and abandoned mines. AMD communities are characterized by a diverse composition of microorganisms that fill available niches depending on their tolerance to temperature, metal resistance and pH. These communities display a complex symbiosis through the biogeochemical cycling of sulfur, iron, carbon and nitrogen. At high temperatures, M. sedula fills the niche of iron and sulfur oxidizer, a role that is filled by other acidophiles such as the mesophilic Ferroplasma spp and Leptospirillum spp at lower temperatures. [10]


1. Huber, G. ,Spinnler, C. , Gambacorta , A., and Stetter, K. “Metallosphaera sedula gen. and sp. nov. Represents a New Genus of Aerobic, Metal-Mobilizing, Thermoacidophilic Archaebacteria”. Systematic and Applied Microbiology. 1989. p. 38-47.
2. Auernik, K., and Kelly, R. “Physiological Versatility of the Extremely Thermoacidophilic Archaeon Metallosphaera sedula Supported by Transcriptomic Analysis of Heterotrophic, Autotrophic, and Mixotrophic Growth”. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2010. p. 931-935.
3. Clark, T., Baldi, F., And Olson, G. “Coal Depyritization by the Thermophilic Archaeon Metallosphaera sedula”. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 1993. p. 2375-2379.
6. Peeples, T.L., and Kelly, R.M., “Bioenergetics of the metal/sulfur-oxidizingextreme thermoacidophile, Metallosphaera sedula”. Fuel. 1993. p. 1577-1752.
7. Auernik, K and Kelly, R. “Impact of Molecular Hydrogen on Chalcopyrite Bioleaching by the Extremely Thermoacidophilic Archaeon Metallosphaera sedula”. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2010. p. 2668-2672.
8. Alber, B., Kung, J., and Fuchs, G. "3-Hydroxypropionyl-Coenzyme A Synthetase from Metallosphaera sedula, an Enzyme Involved in Autotrophic CO2 Fixation". Journal of Bacteriology 2008. p. 1383-1389
10. Baker, B., and Banfield, J. "Microbial Communities in Acid Mine Drainage". FEMS Microbial Ecology. 2002. p. 139-152
11. Auernick, K. S., Maezato, Y., Blum, P. H., Kelly, R. M. “The Genome Sequence of the Metal-Mobilizing, Extremely Thermoacidophilic Archaeon Metallosphaera sedula Provides Insights into Bioleaching-Associated Metabolism”. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2008. p. 682-692


Page authored by Stephanie Napieralski and Caitlin Miller, students of Prof. Jay Lennon at Michigan State University.

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