Humics as an electron donor for anaerobic respiration

Environ Microbiol. 1999 Feb;1(1):89-98. doi: 10.1046/j.1462-2920.1999.00009.x.


The possibility that microorganisms might use reduced humic substances (humics) as an electron donor for the reduction of electron acceptors with a more positive redox potential was investigated. All of the Fe(III)- and humics-reducing microorganisms evaluated were capable of oxidizing reduced humics and/or the reduced humics analogue anthrahydroquinone-2,6,-disulphonate (AHODS), with nitrate and/or fumarate as the electron acceptor. These included Geobacter metallireducens, Geobacter sulphurreducens, Geothrix fermentans, Shewanella alga, Wolinella succinogenes and 'S. barnesii'. Several of the humics-oxidizing microorganisms grew in medium with AHQDS as the sole electron donor and fumarate as the electron acceptor. Even though it does not reduce Fe(III) or humics, Paracoccus denitrificans could use AHQDS and reduced humics as electron donors for denitrification. However, another denitrifier, Pseudomonas denitrificans, could not. AHODS could also serve as an electron donor for selenate and arsenate reduction by W. succinogenes. Electron spin resonance studies demonstrated that humics oxidation was associated with the oxidation of hydroquinone moieties in the humics. Studies with G. metallireducens and W. succinogenes demonstrated that the anthraquinone-2,6-disulphonate (AQDS)/AHQDS redox couple mediated an interspecies electron transfer between the two organisms. These results suggest that, as microbially reduced humics enter less reduced zones of soils and sediments, the reduced humics may serve as electron donors for microbial reduction of several environmentally significant electron acceptors.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerobiosis
  • Anaerobiosis*
  • Anthraquinones / metabolism
  • Arsenates / metabolism
  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Electron Transport
  • Fumarates / metabolism
  • Humic Substances / metabolism*
  • Selenic Acid
  • Selenium Compounds / metabolism
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Anthraquinones
  • Arsenates
  • Fumarates
  • Humic Substances
  • Selenium Compounds
  • fumaric acid
  • Selenic Acid
  • arsenic acid