Acetogenic bacteria: what are the in situ consequences of their diverse metabolic versatilities?

Biofactors. 1997;6(1):13-24. doi: 10.1002/biof.5520060103.


The four decades of the now classic studies by Harland G. Wood and Lars G. Ljungdahl lead to the resolution of the autotrophic acetyl-CoA 'Wood/Ljungdahl' pathway of acetogenesis. This pathway is the hallmark of acetogens, but is also used by other bacteria, including methanogens and sulfate-reducing bacteria, for both catabolic and anabolic purposes. Thus, the pathway is wide spread in nature and plays an important role in the global turnover of carbon. Because most historical studies with acetogens focused on the biochemistry of the acetyl-CoA pathway, the metabolic diversity and ecology of acetogens remained largely unexplored for many years. Although acetogens were initially conceived to be a somewhat obscure bacteriological group with limited metabolic capabilities, it is now clear that acctogens are arguably the most metabolically diverse group of obligate anaerobes characterized to date. Their anaerobic metabolic arsenal includes the capacity to oxidize diverse substrates, including aromatic, C1, C2, and halogenated compounds, and engage a large number of alternative energy-conserving, terminal electron-accepting processes, including classic fermentations and the dissimilation of inorganic nitrogen. In this regard, one might consider acetogens on a collective basis as the pseudomonads of obligate anaerobes. By virtue of their diverse metabolic talents, acetogens can be found in essentially all habitats. This review evaluates the metabolic versatilities of acetogens relative to both the engagement (regulation) of the acetyl-CoA pathway and the ecological roles likely played by this bacteriogical group.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetic Acid / metabolism*
  • Acetyl Coenzyme A / metabolism
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Clostridium / metabolism
  • Gram-Positive Rods / metabolism


  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Acetyl Coenzyme A
  • Acetic Acid