Growth of Escherichia coli K12 in a chemostat was limited by sulphate concentrations lower than 300 muM. The synthesis of extracellular polysaccharide and a change in morphology accompanied sulphate-limited growth. Growth yields with respect to the amount of glycerol or oxygen consumed were sixfold and twofold lower respectively under these conditions than when growth was limited by glycerol. Sulphate-limited cells lacked the proton-translocating oxidoreduction segment of the electron-transport chain between NADH and the cytochromes, and particles prepared from these cells lacked the energy-dependent reduction of NAD+ by succinate, DL-α-glycerophosphate or D-lactate, suggesting the loss of site-I phosphorylation. Glycerol-limited cells contained cytochrome b556, b562 and o, ubiquinone and low concentrations of menaquinone. Sulphate limitation resulted in the additional synthesis of cytochromes d, a1, b558 and c550; the amount of ubiquinone was decreased and menaquinone was barely detectable. Non-haem iron and acid-labile sulphide concentrations were twofold lower in electron-transport particles prepared from sulphate-limited cells. Recovery of site-I phosphorylation could not be demonstrated after incubating sulphate-limited cells with or without glycerol, in either the absence or presence of added sulphate. The loss of site-I phosphorylation in sulphate-limited cells is discussed with reference to the accompanying alterations in cytochrome composition of such cells. Schemes are proposed for the functional organization of the respiratory chains of E. coli grown under conditions of glycerol or sulphate limitation.

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