In contrast to iron-oxidizing Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, A. ferrooxidans from a stationary phase elemental sulfur-oxidizing culture exhibited a lag phase in pyrite oxidation, which is similar to its behaviour during ferrous iron oxidation. The ability of elemental sulfur-oxidizing A. ferrooxidans to immediately oxidize ferrous iron or pyrite without a lag phase was only observed in bacteria obtained from growing cultures with elemental sulfur. However, these cultures that shifted to ferrous iron oxidation showed a low rate of ferrous iron oxidation while no growth was observed. Two-dimensional gel electrophoresis was used for a quantitative proteomic analysis of the adaptation process when bacteria were switched from elemental sulfur to ferrous iron. A comparison of total cell lysates revealed 39 proteins whose increase or decrease in abundance was related to this phenotypic switching. However, only a few proteins were closely related to iron and sulfur metabolism. Reverse-transcription quantitative PCR was used to further characterize the bacterial adaptation process. The expression profiles of selected genes primarily involved in the ferrous iron oxidation indicated that phenotypic switching is a complex process that includes the activation of genes encoding a membrane protein, maturation proteins, electron transport proteins and their regulators.