Phylogenetic and morphologic complexity of giant sulphur bacteria

Verena Salman, Jake V. Bailey, Andreas Teske

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The large sulphur bacteria, first discovered in the early nineteenth century, include some of the largest bacteria identified to date. Individual cells are often visible to the unaided eye and can reach 750 μm in diameter. The cells usually feature light-refracting inclusions of elemental sulphur and a large internal aqueous vacuole, which restricts the cytoplasm to the outermost periphery. In some taxa, it has been demonstrated that the vacuole can also serve for the storage of high millimolar concentrations of nitrate. Over the course of the past two centuries, a wide range of morphological variation within the family Beggiatoaceae has been found. However, representatives of this clade are frequently recalcitrant to current standard microbiological techniques, including 16S rRNA gene sequencing and culturing, and a reliable classification of these bacteria is often complicated. Here we present a summary of the efforts made and achievements accomplished in the past years, and give perspectives for investigating the heterogeneity and possible evolutionary developments in this extraordinary group of bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)169-186
Number of pages18
JournalAntonie van Leeuwenhoek, International Journal of General and Molecular Microbiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We warmly thank Joe Morton for providing the illustrations of different types of large sulphur bacteria. Thank you also to Barbara MacGregor, Anne-Christin Kreutzmann and Heide Schulz-Vogt for reviewing the manuscript and providing valuable comments for its improvement. This study was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (SA 2505/1-1).


  • Beggiatoaceae
  • Classification
  • Identification
  • Morphotypes
  • Phylotypes
  • Reductive division


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