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Anaerobic organism


An anaerobic organism is any organism that does not require oxygen for growth and even dies in its presence.

  • Obligate anaerobes will die when exposed to atmospheric levels of oxygen.
  • Facultative anaerobes can use oxygen when it is present.
  • Aerotolerant organisms can survive in the presence of oxygen, but they are anaerobic because they do not use oxygen as a terminal electron acceptor.

Microaerophiles are organisms that may use oxygen, but only at low concentrations (low micromolar range); their growth is inhibited by normal oxygen concentrations (approximately 200 micromolar). Nanaerobes are organisms that cannot grow in the presence of micromolar concentrations of oxygen, but can grow with and benefit from nanomolar concentrations of oxygen.

Obligate anaerobes may use fermentation or anaerobic respiration. In the presence of oxygen, facultative anaerobes use aerobic respiration; without oxygen some of them ferment, some use anaerobic respiration. Aerotolerant organisms are strictly fermentative. Microaerophiles carry out aerobic respiration, and some of them can also do anaerobic respiration.

There are many chemical equations for anaerobic fermentative reactions.

Fermentative anaerobes

Fermentative anaerobic organisms mostly use the lactic acid fermentation pathway:

C6H12O6 + 2 ADP + 2 phosphate → 2 lactic acid + 2 ATP

The energy released in this equation is approximately 150 kJ per mol, which is conserved in regenerating two ATP from ADP per glucose. This is only 5% of the energy per sugar molecule that the typical aerobic reaction generates.

Plants and fungi (e.g., yeasts) generally use alcohol (ethanol) fermentation when oxygen becomes limiting:

C6H12O6 + 2 ADP + 2 phosphate → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2 + 2 ATP

The energy released is about 180 kJ per mol, which is conserved in regenerating two ATP from ADP per glucose.

Anaerobic bacteria and archaea use these and many other fermentative pathways, e.g., propionic acid fermentation, butyric acid fermentation, solvent fermentation, mixed acid fermentation, butanediol fermentation, Stickland fermentation, acetogenesis or methanogenesis.

Some anaerobic bacteria produce toxins (e.g., tetanus or botulinum toxins) that are highly dangerous to higher organisms, including humans.

Obligate anaerobies

Obligate (strict) anaerobes die in presence of oxygen due to the absence of the enzymes superoxide dismutase and catalase which would convert the lethal superoxide formed in their cells due to the presence of oxygen. Instead of oxygen, obligate anaerobes use alternate electron acceptors for respiration such as sulfate, nitrate, iron, manganese, mercury, and carbon monoxide. The energey yield of these repiratory processes is less than oxygen respiration, and not all of these electron acceptors are created equally. The most favorable (after oxygen) is sulfate. In marine sediments this leads to large amounts of sulfate reduction, which most of us are familiar with as the rotten egg smell and black material that can be found just a few centimeters below the sediment surface. Next in line is nitrate, then the metal ions, and lastlly a zone of methanogenesis is found. Very little energy is obtained from methanogeneis and vast amounts of substrate need to be turned over to make a living.

Bacteroides and Clostridium species are examples of non-spore forming and spore-forming strict anaerobes, respectively.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Anaerobic_organism". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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