Rhodobacter sphaeroides

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A Microbial Biorealm page on the genus Rhodobacter sphaeroides


Higher order taxa

Bacteria; Proteobacteria; Alphaproteobacteria; Rhodobaterales; Rhodobacteraceae; Rhodobacter; sphaeroides


Rhodobacter sphaeroides

NCBI: Taxonomy

Description and significance

Rhodobacter sphaeroides is a rod-shaped bacterium that has an unusual single flagellum. Unlike other bacteria, the flagellum of R. sphaeroides is composed of a straight hook and hook-associated body (HBB) complexes. Due to the shape of the flagellum, it can only rotate in a clockwise direction with a fast, slow or stop mechanism. Rhodobacter sphaeroides also has a complex genome and a versatile metabolism that cannot be found in most other microorganisms. R. sphaeroides is a gram-negative purple nonsulfur phototrophic bacterium belonging to α-3 Proteobacteria. Like other species of Rhodobacter, it is a metabolically diverse organism able to grow in a wide range of lifestyles including aerobic, anaerobic, photosynthetic, and diazotrophic growth modes. It responds to environmental changes by undergoing both physiological and morphological adaptations. R. sphaeroides is also the first organism that was found to possess multiple chromosomes. This discovery was made by Suwanto and Kaplan. Having two chromosomes gives the R. sphaeroides an advantage in adapting to various conditions.

Genome structure

Rhodobacter sphaeroides contains two distinct circular chromosomes, CⅠ(3,046kb) and CⅡ(914kb), and five endogenous plasmids (450kb). Thus, the total genome size is about 4,400kb and G+C content of its genome is 67.3 mol% and 65.7 mol% for CⅠ and CⅡ, respectively. It is revealed that a number of essential duplicate copies of R. sphaeroides are distributed between the two chromosomes. For example, one ribosomal RNA (rRNA) operon (rrnA) is found on CⅠ, while two rRNA operons (rrnB and rrnC) are on CⅡ. The difference between two chromosomes makes R. sphaeroides unique in its metabolic flexibility. Recent study found that CⅠ of R. sphaeroides has more coding abilities and conserved sequences than CⅡ. Since CⅡ is a rapidly evolving copy, it makes R. sphaeroides possible to grow in various conditions. In addition, genes on CⅡ encodes a various set of functions that are unusual for this photosynthetic organism—genes that are involved in proteins synthesis, amino acid biosynthesis, fatty acid metabolism, transcriptional regulation, energy metabolism, and structural components.

Cell Structure and Metabolism

As mentioned above, Rhodobacter sphaeroides is highly adaptive to various environmental conditions. In oxygenic conditions, it uses aerobic respiration for energy generation and the organism is similar to a normal gram-negative cell envelope structure. Under anoxygenic conditions, in the light or dark, R. sphaeroides respires anaerobically but, in the dark, it uses dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) or trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) as the terminal electron acceptor. Under aerobic-to-anaerobic shift conditions, R. sphaeroides changes morphologically by synthesizing the intracytoplasmic membrane (ICM) through an invagination process. The ICM possesses the photosynthetic apparatus and the structural components required for light energy capture, electron transport, and energy transduction.

R. sphaeroides is well-known for its diverse biochemical processes including metal reduction, nitrogen and carbon dioxide fixation, and also production of hydrogen as a source of energy. These processes are coupled to photosynthetic apparatus of the organism.


Rhodobacter sphaeroides is found in various conditions, especially in organic-rich habitat.


This organism is not pathogenic.

Application to Biotechnology

1) Production of indole

Under anoxygenic conditions, R. sphaeroides OU5 is used to mediate production of indole and its derivatives from anthranilate. Indole is an aromatic compound that can be useful for growth and production of valuable compounds. It is used as the main commercial source of the material that benefits production of paddy crop and plant hormone.

2) Production of ZnS nanoparticles

Because R. sphaeroides grow diverse conditions and is resistant to heavy metals, it is used to prepare ZnS nanoparticles. ZnS nanoparticle is highly industrial material in IR optical devices.

3) Production of Rhodethrin

Rhodethrin can be isolated when R. sphaeroides OU5 is grown on a L-tryptophan as sole source of nitrogen in the absence of oxygen. The metabolite has phytohormonal activity and phytotoxicity against cancer cell lines and also inhibitory activity of cyclooxxygenase-2.

4) Extraction of carotenoids

Carotenoids are naturally occurring compounds found in photosynthetic bacteria. Studies found that carotenoids having antioxidant activity and provitamin A function are able to inhibit various types of cancer and protect from cardiovascular disease and age-related macular degeneration.

Current Research

1) Energy trapping in photosynthesis

Since R. sphaeroides is a photosynthetic bacterium in diverse environmental conditions, how energy flows through complexes has been an interest to researchers. The reaction center (RC) from Rhodobacter sphaeroides contains bacteriopheophytin (BPhy), bacteriochlorophyll (BChl), and bacteriochlorophyll dimer (P). The energy in the RC is transferred from BPhy via BChl to P, taking about 100 to 200 femtoseconds (fs). Researchers suggest that there might have correlated effects between proteins that result in long-lived electronic coherence in RC, allowing the energy to transfer rapidly into space. And then, energy can be trapped efficiently.

2) Studies on optimal conditions of hydrogen production under photoheterotrophic condition.

Since hydrogen is expected to be an energy source in the future, researchers have made efforts to find efficient ways of producing hydrogen. Iron is used because it functions as a cofactor for proteins responsible for energy metabolism. Studies found that concentration of Fe2+ have a greater effect on production of hydrogen by R. sphaeroides. With increases in concentration of Fe2+, hydrogen production increases linearly, indicating they have direct relationship.

3) Ubiquinone-10(CoQ10) production.

Ubiquinone-10 is used as a coenzyme in many biological reactions and play essential role in energy generation. It also has proved to be good treatments of heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Studies found that ubiquinone-10 can be produced under anaerobic-light or aerobic-dark condition of R. sphaeroides. However, under anaerobic-light environment, the long lag phase of growth curve is observed leading to a long fermentation period. Thus, for the best result in energy-saving and maximizing production rate of CoQ10, R. sphaeroides will grow under aerobic-dark condition with zero dissolved oxygen.


1. Bai, H., Zhang, Z., and J. Gong. 2006. Biological synthesis of semiconductor zinc sulfide nanoparticles by immobilized Rhodobacter sphaeroides. Biotechnol Lett. 28:1135-1139

2. Chory, J., Donohue, T. J., Varga, A. R., Staehelin, A., and S. Kaplan. 1984. Induction of the photosynthetic membranes of Rhodopseudomonas sphaeroides: biochemical and morphological studies. J. Bacteriol. 159:540-554

3. Choudhary, M., Mackenzie, C., Nereng, K. S., Sodergren, E., Weinstock, G. M., and S. Kaplan. 1994. Multiple chromosomes in bacteria: structure and function of chromosomeⅡ of Rhodobacter sphaeroides 2.4.1. J. Bacteriol. 176:7694-7702.

4. Choudhary, M., Mackenzie, C., Nereng, K., Sodergren, E., Weinstock, G. M., and S. Kaplan. 1997. Low-resolution sequencing of Rhodobacter sphaeroides 2.4.1: chromosomeⅡ is a true chromosome. Microbiology. 143:3085-3099.

5. Choudhary, M., Zanhua, X., Fu, Y.X., and S. Kaplan. 2007. Genome analysis of three strains of Rhodobacter spharoides: evidence of rapid evolution of chromosomeⅡ. J. Bateriol. 189:1914-1921

6. Devi, R. N., Sasikala, C., and C.V. Ramana. 2000. Light-dependent transformation of anthranilate to indole by Rhodobacter sphaeroides OU5. J. Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnol. 24:219-221.

7. Lee, H., Cheng, Y., G.R. Fleming. 2007. Coherence dynamics in photosynthesis: protein protection of excitonic coherence. Science. 316:1462-1465

8. Ranjith, N. K., Sasikala, C., and C. V. Ramana. 2007. Rhodethrin: a novel indole terpenoid ether produced by Rhodobacter sphaeroides has cytotoxic and phytohormonal activities. Biotechnol Lett. 29:1399-1402.

9. Suwanto, A., and S. Kaplan. 1989. Physical and genetic mapping of the Rhodobacter sphaeroides 2.4.1 genome: genome size, fragment identification, and gene localization. J. Bacteriol. 171:5840-5849.

10. Suwanto, A., and S. Kaplan. 1989. Physical and genetic mapping of the Rhodobacter sphaeroides 2.4.1 genome: presence of two unique circular chromosomes. J. Bacteriol. 171:5850-5859.

11. W. W. Parson. 2007. Long live electronic coherence. Science. 316:1438-1439.

12. Yen, H., and C. Chiu. 2007. The influences of aerobic-dark and anaerobic-light cultivation on CoQ10 production by Rhodobacter sphaeroides in the submerged fermenter. Enzyme and Microbial Technol. 41:600-604.

13. Zhenxin, G., et al. Optimization of carotenoids extraction from Rhodobacter sphaeroides. LWT-Food Science and Technology (2007), doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2007.07.005

14. Zhu H, et al. Effect of ferrous ion on photo heterotrophic hydrogen production by Rhodobacter sphaeroides. Int J Hydrogen Energy (2007), doi: 10.1016/j.ijhydene.2007.06.010

Edited by Shinae Kang of Rachel Larsen