Published in Nature Reviews Microbiology 4, 752-764 (October 2006),


Iron (Fe) has long been a recognized physiological requirement for life, yet for many microorganisms that persist in water, soils and sediments, its role extends well beyond that of a nutritional necessity. Fe(II) can function as an electron source for iron-oxidizing microorganisms under both oxic and anoxic conditions and Fe(III) can function as a terminal electron acceptor under anoxic conditions for iron-reducing microorganisms. Given that iron is the fourth most abundant element in the Earth's crust, iron redox reactions have the potential to support substantial microbial populations in soil and sedimentary environments. As such, biological iron apportionment has been described as one of the most ancient forms of microbial metabolism on Earth, and as a conceivable extraterrestrial metabolism on other iron-mineral-rich planets such as Mars. Furthermore, the metabolic versatility of the microorganisms involved in these reactions has resulted in the development of biotechnological applications to remediate contaminated environments and harvest energy.