The bacterial sulfur cycle in expanding dysoxic and euxinic marine waters

Environ Microbiol. 2021 Jun;23(6):2834-2857. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.15265. Epub 2020 Oct 18.


Dysoxic marine waters (DMW, < 1 μM oxygen) are currently expanding in volume in the oceans, which has biogeochemical, ecological and societal consequences on a global scale. In these environments, distinct bacteria drive an active sulfur cycle, which has only recently been recognized for open-ocean DMW. This review summarizes the current knowledge on these sulfur-cycling bacteria. Critical bottlenecks and questions for future research are specifically addressed. Sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) are core members of DMW. However, their roles are not entirely clear, and they remain largely uncultured. We found support for their remarkable diversity and taxonomic novelty by mining metagenome-assembled genomes from the Black Sea as model ecosystem. We highlight recent insights into the metabolism of key sulfur-oxidizing SUP05 and Sulfurimonas bacteria, and discuss the probable involvement of uncultivated SAR324 and BS-GSO2 bacteria in sulfur oxidation. Uncultivated Marinimicrobia bacteria with a presumed organoheterotrophic metabolism are abundant in DMW. Like SRB, they may use specific molybdoenzymes to conserve energy from the oxidation, reduction or disproportionation of sulfur cycle intermediates such as S0 and thiosulfate, produced from the oxidation of sulfide. We expect that tailored sampling methods and a renewed focus on cultivation will yield deeper insight into sulfur-cycling bacteria in DMW.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Ecosystem*
  • Metagenome
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxygen
  • Seawater
  • Sulfur*


  • Sulfur
  • Oxygen