Microbial resistance to tellurite, an oxyanion of tellurium, is widespread in the biosphere, but the geochemical significance of this trait is poorly understood. As some tellurite resistance markers appear to mediate the formation of volatile tellurides, the potential contribution of tellurite-resistant microbial strains to trace element volatilization in salt marsh sediments was evaluated. Microbial strains were isolated aerobically on the basis of tellurite resistance and subsequently examined for their capacity to volatilize tellurium in pure cultures. The tellurite-resistant strains recovered were either yeasts related to marine isolates of Rhodotorula spp. or gram-positive bacteria related to marine strains within the family Bacillaceae based on rRNA gene sequence comparisons. Most strains produced volatile tellurides, primarily dimethyltelluride, though there was a wide range of the types and amounts of species produced. For example, the Rhodotorula spp. produced the greatest quantities and highest diversity of volatile tellurium compounds. All strains also produced methylated sulfur compounds, primarily dimethyldisulfide. Intracellular tellurium precipitates were a major product of tellurite metabolism in all strains tested, with nearly complete recovery of the tellurite initially provided to cultures as a precipitate. Different strains appeared to produce different shapes and sizes of tellurium containing nanostructures. These studies suggest that aerobic marine yeast and Bacillus spp. may play a greater role in trace element biogeochemistry than has been previously assumed, though additional work is needed to further define and quantify their specific contributions.
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