Soluble organic-Fe(III) complexes: rethinking iron solubility and bioavailability
Jones, Morris Edward
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The bioavailability of iron is limited by the solubility of Fe(III) at circumneutral pH. In the High Nutrient-Low Chlorophyll (HNLC) zones of the ocean, the natural or anthropogenic addition of iron stimulates primary productivity and consumes carbon dioxide. As a result, iron fertilization has been proposed to mitigate anthropogenic carbon emissions and lower global temperatures. The natural sources of iron to the ocean are not fully constrained and include eolian depositions as well as inputs from continental shelf sediments, rivers, hydrothermal vents, and icebergs. Regardless of their source, the effectiveness of iron additions in promoting carbon fixation depends on the presence of organic ligands either natural or produced by microorganisms that stabilize or solubilize Fe(III) at neutral pH. For example, siderophores are well known to be expressed extracellularly by prokaryotes in the photic zones of the oceans to increase the bioavailability of iron. In this dissertation, the production of iron nanoparticles is demonstrated in vent fluids from the 90 North hydrothermal system. These iron nanoparticles may either catalyze the oxidation of sulfide to thiosulfate and produce a potential electron acceptor for microbial respiration or provide a source of iron that stimulates primary production at great distances from the hydrothermal vents. In addition, dissolved iron under the form of soluble organic-Fe(III) complexes is demonstrated to constitute a significant source of iron in estuarine sediments that receive large amounts of particulate iron from flocculation and precipitation at the salinity transition of this estuary. A novel competitive ligand equilibration absorptive cathodic stripping voltammetry (CLE-ACSV) technique reveals that the speciation of iron changes from largely colloidal or particulate in the upper estuary to truly dissolved organic-Fe(III) in the lower estuary. It is also demonstrated that organic-Fe(III) complexes are produced far below the sediment-water interface, suggesting that dissimilatory iron-reducing bacteria may play an important role in their production. These complexes then diffuse across the sediment-water interface and provide a significant source of iron to the continental shelf. The mechanism of reduction of iron oxides by iron-reducing bacteria is not fully understood and presents a unique physiological problem for the organism, as the terminal reductase has to transfer electrons to a solid electron acceptor. In this dissertation, it is demonstrated for the first time using random mutagenesis that the respiration of solid Fe(III) oxides by Shewanella oneidensis, a model iron-reducing prokaryote, first proceeds through a non-reductive dissolution step involving organic ligands that are released extracellularly by the cells. These soluble complexes are then reduced by the organism to produce Fe(II) and recycle the ligand for additional solubilization. Incubations with deletion mutants of the proteins involved in the respiration of Fe(III) revealed that the type-II secretion system, which translocates proteins on the outer membrane of gram-negative bacteria, is involved in the production of organic-Fe(III) complexes by secreting an endogenous iron-solubilizing ligand or a protein involved in the biosynthesis of this ligand on the outer membrane. In addition, periplasmic decaheme cytochromes produced by Shewanella appear to be involved in the mechanism of production of the endogenous organic ligand either directly or through a sensing mechanism that controls its production. In turn, two decaheme cytochromes positioned on the outer-membrane and hypothesized to be involved in the electron transfer to the mineral surface do not appear to be involved in the solubilization mechanism, suggesting either that the cells regulate the ligand production via periplasmic sensing systems or that these cytochromes are not involved in the solubilization mechanism. Altogether this research shows the production of organic-Fe(III) complexes in sediments generates a significant flux of dissolved iron to support primary production in continental shelf waters and that these complexes may be partly produced by iron-reducing bacteria. Indeed, experiments with a model organism demonstrate dissimilatory iron reducing bacteria produce endogenous organic ligands with high iron-binding constants to non-reductively solubilize iron oxides during the anaerobic respiration of iron oxides. The organic ligand is apparently recycled several times to minimize the energy cost associated with its biosynthesis. These findings demonstrate that the solubilization of iron oxides by organic ligands may be an important, yet underappreciated process in aquatic systems.