The bacteria of the sulphur cycle

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1982 Sep 13;298(1093):433-41. doi: 10.1098/rstb.1982.0090.


This paper concentrates on the bacteria involved in the reductions and oxidations of inorganic sulphur compounds under anaerobic conditions. The genera of the dissimilatory sulphate-reducing bacteria known today are discussed with respect to their different capacities to decompose and oxidize various products of fermentative degradations of organic matter. The utilization of molecular hydrogen and formate by sulphate reducers shifts fermentations towards the energetically more favourable formation of acetate. Since acetate amounts to about two-thirds of the degradation products of organic matter, the complete anaerobic oxidation of acetate by several genera of the sulphate-reducing bacteria is an important function for terminal oxidation in sulphate-sufficient environments. The results of pure culture studies agree well with ecological investigations of several authors who showed the significance of sulphate reduction for the complete oxidation of organic matter in anaerobic marine habitats. In the dissimilatory sulphur-reducing bacteria of the genus Desulfuromonas the oxidation of acetate is linked to the reduction of elemental sulphur. Major characteristics of the anaerobic, sulphide-oxidizing phototrophic green and purple sulphur bacteria as well as of some facultative anoxygenic cyanobacteria, are given. By the formation of elemental sulphur and sulphate, these bacteria establish sulphur cycles with the sulphide-forming bacteria. In view of the morphological diversity of the sulphate-reducing bacteria and question of possible evolutionary relations to phototrophic sulphur bacteria is raised.

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Environment
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Sulfur / metabolism*


  • Sulfur