- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
Iron is the most abundant element on Earth and the most frequently utilized transition metal in the biosphere. It is a component of many cellular compounds and is involved in numerous physiological functions. Hence, iron is an essential micronutrient for all eukaryotes and the majority of prokaryotes. Prokaryotes that need iron for biosynthesis require micromolar concentrations, levels that are often not available in neutral pH oxic environments. Therefore, prokaryotes have evolved specific acquisition molecules, called siderophores, to increase iron bioavailability. Acquisition of iron by siderophores is a complex process and is discussed in detail by Kraemer et al. (2005).
Here we focus on prokaryotes that generate energy for growth by oxidation or reduction of iron. In both processes single electron transfers are involved. Hence, for a significant extent of energy generation, turnover of iron in the millimolar rather than the micromolar range is necessary. Iron metabolizing organisms have therefore a strong influence on iron cycling in the environment. Microbial iron oxidation and reduction will be discussed, with emphasis on circumneutral pH environments that prevail on Earth. The active metabolic processes outlined above have to be distinguished from indirect biologically induced iron mineral formation in which prokaryotic cell surfaces simply act as passive templates (“passive iron biomineralization”) (e.g., Konhauser 1997).
General aspects of the iron cycle
On our planet, iron is ubiquitous in the hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere and atmosphere, either as particulate ferric [Fe(III)] or ferrous [Fe(II)] iron-bearing minerals or as dissolved ions. Redox transformations of iron, as well as dissolution and precipitation and thus mobilization and redistribution, are caused by chemical and to a significant extent by microbial processes (Fig. 1⇓). Microorganisms catalyze the oxidation of Fe(II) under oxic or anoxic conditions as well as the reduction of Fe(III) in anoxic habitats. Microbially influenced transformations of iron are often much faster than the …