Yu, Qiang; Boyanov, Maxim; Liu, Jinling ; Kemner, Kenneth; Fein, Jeremy
Microbial activities play a central role in the global cycling of selenium. Microorganisms can reduce, methylate, and assimilate Se, controlling the transport and fate of Se in the environment. However, the mechanisms controlling these microbial activities are still poorly understood. In particular, it is unknown how the negatively charged Se(IV) and Se(VI) oxyanions that dominate the aqueous Se speciation in oxidizing environments bind to negatively charged microbial cell surfaces in order to become bioavailable. Here, we show that the adsorption of selenite onto Bacillus subtilis bacterial cells is controlled by cell envelope sulfhydryl sites. Once adsorbed onto the bacteria, selenite is reduced and forms reduced organo-Se compounds (e.g., R,S Se SR2). Because sulfhydryl sites are present within cell envelopes of a wide range of bacterial species, sulfhydryl-controlled adsorption of selenite likely represents a general mechanism adopted by bacteria to make selenite bioavailable. Therefore, sulfhydryl binding of selenite likely occurs in a wide range of oxidized Se-bearing environments, and because it is followed by microbial conversion of selenite to other Se species, the process represents a crucial step in the global cycling of Se.