Microorganisms show an astonishing versatility in energy metabolism. They can use a variety of different catabolic electron acceptors, but they use them according to a thermodynamic hierarchy, which is determined by the redox potential of the available electron acceptors. This hierarchy is reflected by a regulatory machinery that leads to the production of respiratory chains in dependence of the availability of the corresponding electron acceptors.
In this study, we showed that the γ-proteobacterium Shewanella oneidensis produces several functional electron transfer chains simultaneously. Furthermore, these chains are interconnected, most likely with the aid of c-type cytochromes. The cytochrome pool of a single S. oneidensis cell consists of ca. 700 000 hemes, which are reduced in the absence on an electron acceptor, but can be reoxidized in the presence of a variety of electron acceptors, irrespective of prior growth conditions.
The small tetraheme cytochrome (STC) and the soluble heme and flavin containing fumarate reductase FccA have overlapping activity and appear to be important for this electron transfer network. Double deletion mutants showed either delayed growth or no growth with ferric iron, nitrate, dimethyl sulfoxide or fumarate as electron acceptor. We propose that an electron transfer machinery that is produced irrespective of a thermodynamic hierarchy not only enables the organism to quickly release catabolic electrons to a variety of environmental electron acceptors, but also offers a fitness benefit in redox-stratified environments.