The amount of magnetite (Fe3O4) within magnetosomes of the microaerophilic bacterium Aquaspirillum magnetotacticum varies with oxygen and nitrogen supply. The development of optical methods for directly measuring cell magnetism in culture samples has enabled us to quantitate bacterial Fe3O4 yields. We measured final cell yields, average cell magnetic moments, and magnetosome yields of growing cells. Cultures were grown with NO3-, NH4+, or both, in sealed, unshaken vials with initial headspace Po2 values ranging from 0 (trace) to 21 kPa.

More than 50% of cells had detectable magnetosomes only when grown in the range of 0.5-5.0 kPa O2. Optimum cell magnetism (and Fe3O4 formation) occurred under microaerobic conditions (initial headspace Po2 of 0.5-1 kPa) regardless of the N source. At optimal conditions for Fe3O4 formation, denitrifying cultures produced more of this mineral than those growing with O2 as the sole terminal electron acceptor. This suggests that competition for O2 exists between processes involving respiratory electron disposal and Fe3O4 formation. Oxygen may also be required for Fe3O4 formation by other species of magnetotactic bacteria.

Bacterial Fe3O4 appears to persist in sediments after death and lysis of cells. The presence of bacterial Fe3O4 in the fossil and paleomagnetic records may be of use as a retrospective indicator of sedimentation that has occurred in microaerobic waters.



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This is an electronic version of an article published in Geomicrobiology Journal.

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