Formation of manganese oxides by bacterially generated superoxide
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Manganese oxide minerals are among the strongest sorbents and oxidants in the environment. The formation of these minerals controls the fate of contaminants, the degradation of recalcitrant carbon, the cycling of nutrients and the activity of anaerobic-based metabolisms(1-3). Oxidation of soluble manganese( II) ions to manganese(III/IV) oxides has been primarily attributed to direct enzymatic oxidation by microorganisms. However, the physiological reason for this process remains unknown. Here we assess the ability of a common species of marine bacteria-Roseobacter sp. AzwK-3b-to oxidize manganese( II) in the presence of chemical and biological inhibitors. We show that Roseobacter AzwK-3b oxidizes manganese(II) by producing the strong and versatile redox reactant superoxide. The oxidation of manganese(II), and concomitant production of manganese oxides, was inhibited in both the light and dark in the presence of enzymes and metals that scavenge superoxide. Oxidation was also inhibited by various proteases, enzymes that break down bacterial proteins, confirming that the superoxide was bacterially generated. We conclude that bacteria can oxidize manganese(II) indirectly, through the enzymatic generation of extracellular superoxide radicals. We suggest that dark bacterial production of superoxide may be a driving force in metal cycling and mineralization in the environment.