Acid-base properties of cyanobacterial surfaces II: Silica as a chemical stressor influencing cell surface reactivity

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  • Bacteria grow in complex solutions where the adsorption of aqueous species and nucleation of mineral phases on the cell surface may interfere with membrane-dependent homeostatic functions. While previous investigations have provided evidence that bacteria may alter their surface chemical properties in response to environmental stimuli, to our knowledge no effort has been made to evaluate surface compositional changes resulting from non-nutritional chemical stresses within a quantitative framework applicable to surface complexation modeling. We consider here the influence of exposure to silica on cyanobacterial surface chemistry, particularly in light of the propensity for cyanobacteria to become silicified in geothermal environments. Using data modeled from over 50 potentiometric titrations of the unsheathed cyanobacterium Anabaena sp. strain PCC 7120, we find that both abiotic geochemical and biotic biochemical-assimilatory factors have important and different effects on cell surface chemistry. Changes in functional group distribution that resulted from growth by different nitrogen assimilation pathways were greatest in the absence of dissolved silica and less important in its presence. Furthermore, out of the three nitrogen assimilation pathways investigated, in terms of surface functional group distribution, nitrate-reducing cultures were least sensitive, and ammonium-assimilating cultures were most sensitive, to changes in media silica concentration. When functional group distributions were plotted as a function of silica concentration, it appears that, with higher silica concentrations, basic groups (pKa > 7) increase in concentration relative to acidic groups (pKa < 7), and the total ligand densities (on a per-weight basis) decreased. The results imply a decrease in both the magnitude and density of surface charge as the net result of growth at high silica concentrations. Thus, Anabaena sp. appears to actively respond to growth in silicifying solutions by altering its surface properties in a manner that is likely to be manifested in nature by facilitated surface attachment. We conclude that potentiometric titrations reveal a Gram-negative bacterial surface whose properties are dynamic with respect to both nutrient and geochemical stressors.

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    Article (Published)
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    Crown copyright © 2007 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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    • SV Lalonde, DS Smith, GW Owttrim and KO Konhauser. "Acid-base properties of cyanobacterial surfaces II: Silica as a chemical stressor influencing cell surface reactivity." Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 72 (2008): 1269-128.