Geobacter sulfurreducens uses at least two different pathways to transport electrons out of the inner membrane quinone pool before reducing acceptors beyond the outer membrane. When growing on electrodes poised at oxidizing potentials, the CbcL-dependent pathway operates at or below redox potentials of -0.10 V vs the standard hydrogen electrode, whereas the ImcH-dependent pathway operates only above this value. Here, we provide evidence that G. sulfurreducens also requires different electron transfer proteins for reduction of a wide range of Fe(III)- and Mn(IV)-(oxyhydr)oxides, and must transition from a high- to low-potential pathway during reduction of commonly studied soluble and insoluble metal electron acceptors. Freshly precipitated Fe(III)-(oxyhydr)oxides could not be reduced by mutants lacking the high-potential pathway. Aging these minerals by autoclaving did not change their powder X-ray diffraction pattern, but restored reduction by mutants lacking the high-potential pathway. Mutants lacking the low-potential, CbcL-dependent pathway had higher growth yields with both soluble and insoluble Fe(III). Together, these data suggest that the ImcH-dependent pathway exists to harvest additional energy when conditions permit, and CbcL switches on to allow respiration closer to thermodynamic equilibrium conditions. With evidence of multiple pathways within a single organism, the study of extracellular respiration should consider not only the crystal structure or solubility of a mineral electron acceptor, but rather the redox potential, as this variable determines the energetic reward affecting reduction rates, extents, and final microbial growth yields in the environment.
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