The ancient metabolism of photoferrotrophy is likely to have played a key role in the biogeochemical cycle of iron on Early Earth leading to the deposition of Banded Iron Formations prior to the emergence of oxygenic photosynthesis. Extant organisms still performing this metabolism provide a convenient window to peer into its molecular mechanisms. Here we report the molecular structure of FoxE, the putative terminal iron oxidase of Rhodobacter ferrooxidans SW2. This protein is organized as a trimer with two hemes and a disulfide bridge per monomer. The distance between hemes, their solvent exposure and the surface electrostatics ensure a controlled electron transfer rate. They also guarantee segregation between electron capture from ferrous iron and electron release to downstream acceptors, which do not favor the precipitation of ferric iron. Combined with the functional characterization of this protein, the structure reveals how iron oxidation can be performed in the periplasmic space of this Gram-negative bacterium at circumneutral pH, while minimizing the risk of mineral precipitation and cell encrustation.
- Electron transfer
- Surface electrostatics