Evolution of electron transfer out of the cell: comparative genomics of six Geobacter genomes

Jessica E Butler, Nelson D Young, Derek R Lovley

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BACKGROUND: Geobacter species grow by transferring electrons out of the cell--either to Fe(III)-oxides or to man-made substances like energy-harvesting electrodes. Study of Geobacter sulfurreducens has shown that TCA cycle enzymes, inner-membrane respiratory enzymes, and periplasmic and outer-membrane cytochromes are required. Here we present comparative analysis of six Geobacter genomes, including species from the clade that predominates in the subsurface. Conservation of proteins across the genomes was determined to better understand the evolution of Geobacter species and to create a metabolic model applicable to subsurface environments.

RESULTS: The results showed that enzymes for acetate transport and oxidation, and for proton transport across the inner membrane were well conserved. An NADH dehydrogenase, the ATP synthase, and several TCA cycle enzymes were among the best conserved in the genomes. However, most of the cytochromes required for Fe(III)-reduction were not, including many of the outer-membrane cytochromes. While conservation of cytochromes was poor, an abundance and diversity of cytochromes were found in every genome, with duplications apparent in several species.

CONCLUSIONS: These results indicate there is a common pathway for acetate oxidation and energy generation across the family and in the last common ancestor. They also suggest that while cytochromes are important for extracellular electron transport, the path of electrons across the periplasm and outer membrane is variable. This combination of abundant cytochromes with weak sequence conservation suggests they may not be specific terminal reductases, but rather may be important in their heme-bearing capacity, as sinks for electrons between the inner-membrane electron transport chain and the extracellular acceptor.

Original languageEnglish
Article number40
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Genomics
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2010


  • acetates
  • bacterial proton-translocating ATPases
  • citric acid cycle
  • cluster analysis
  • comparative genomic hybridization
  • cytochromes c
  • electron transport
  • evolution, molecular
  • gene duplication
  • gene expression regulation, bacterial
  • gene transfer, horizontal
  • genome, bacterial
  • genomics
  • Geobacter
  • NADH dehydrogenase
  • oxidation-reduction
  • phylogeny


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