Authors: Zahra F. Islam, Paul R. F. Cordero, Joanna Feng, Ya-Jou Chen, Sean K. Bay, Thanavit Jirapanjawat, Roslyn M. Gleadow, Carlo R. Carere, Matthew B. Stott, Eleonora Chiri & Chris Greening


  • School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, VIC, 3800, Australia
  • Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 8041, New Zealand
  • School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 8041, New Zealand

Publication: The ISME Journal

Date: March 2019

Full paper:


Most aerobic bacteria exist in dormant states within natural environments. In these states, they endure adverse environmental conditions such as nutrient starvation by decreasing metabolic expenditure and using alternative energy sources. In this study, we investigated the energy sources that support persistence of two aerobic thermophilic strains of the environmentally widespread but understudied phylum Chloroflexi. A transcriptome study revealed that Thermomicrobium roseum (class Chloroflexia) extensively remodels its respiratory chain upon entry into stationary phase due to nutrient limitation. Whereas primary dehydrogenases associated with heterotrophic respiration were downregulated, putative operons encoding enzymes involved in molecular hydrogen (H2), carbon monoxide (CO), and sulfur compound oxidation were significantly upregulated. Gas chromatography and microsensor experiments showed that T. roseum aerobically respires H2 and CO at a range of environmentally relevant concentrations to sub-atmospheric levels. Phylogenetic analysis suggests that the hydrogenases and carbon monoxide dehydrogenases mediating these processes are widely distributed in Chloroflexi genomes and have probably been horizontally acquired on more than one occasion. Consistently, we confirmed that the sporulating isolate Thermogemmatispora sp. T81 (class Ktedonobacteria) also oxidises atmospheric H2 and CO during persistence, though further studies are required to determine if these findings extend to mesophilic strains. This study provides axenic culture evidence that atmospheric CO supports bacterial persistence and reports the third phylum, following Actinobacteria and Acidobacteria, to be experimentally shown to mediate the biogeochemically and ecologically important process of atmospheric H2 oxidation. This adds to the growing body of evidence that atmospheric trace gases are dependable energy sources for bacterial persistence.