Purple bacteria

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Purple bacteria grown in Winogradsky column

Purple bacteria or purple photosynthetic bacteria are proteobacteria that are phototrophic, that is, capable of producing their own food via photosynthesis.[1] They are pigmented with bacteriochlorophyll a or b, together with various carotenoids, which give them colours ranging between purple, red, brown, and orange. They may be divided into two groups – purple sulfur bacteria (Chromatiales, in part) and purple non-sulfur bacteria (Rhodospirillaceae).


Purple bacteria are mainly photoautotrophic, but are also known to be chemoautotrophic and photoheterotrophic. They can be mixotrophs, capable of aerobic respiration and fermentation.[2]


Photosynthesis occurs at reaction centers on the cell membrane, where the photosynthetic pigments (i.e. bacteriochlorophyll, carotenoids) and pigment-binding proteins are invaginated to form vesicle sacs, tubules, or single-paired or stacked lamellar sheets.[3][4] This is called the intracytoplasmic membrane (ICM), which has increased surface area to maximize light absorption.

The purple non-sulfur bacterium Rhodospirillum


Purple bacteria use cyclic electron transport driven by a series of redox reactions.[5] Light-harvesting complexes surrounding a reaction centre (RC) harvest photons in the form of resonance energy, exciting chlorophyll pigments P870 or P960 located in the RC. Excited electrons are cycled from P870 to quinones QA and QB, then passed to cytochrome bc1, cytochrome c2, and back to P870. The reduced quinone QB attracts two cytoplasmic protons and becomes QH2, eventually being oxidized and releasing the protons to be pumped into the periplasm by the cytochrome bc1 complex.[4][6] The resulting charge separation between the cytoplasm and periplasm generates a proton motive force used by ATP synthase to produce ATP energy.[7][8]

Electron donors for anabolism[edit]

Purple bacteria also transfer electrons from external electron donors directly to cytochrome bc1 to generate NADH or NADPH used for anabolism.[9] They are anoxygenic because they do not use water as an electron donor to produce oxygen. One type of purple bacteria, called purple sulfur bacteria (PSB), use sulfide or sulfur as electron donors.[10] Another type, called purple non-sulfur bacteria, typically use hydrogen as an electron donor, but can also use sulfide or organic compounds at lower concentrations compared to PSB.

Purple bacteria lack external electron carriers to spontaneously reduce NAD(P)+ to NAD(P)H, so they must use their reduced quinones to endergonically reduce NAD(P)+. This process is driven by the proton motive force and is called reverse electron flow.[9]


Purple bacteria were the first bacteria discovered to photosynthesize without having an oxygen byproduct. Instead, their byproduct is sulfur. This was demonstrated by first establishing the bacteria's reactions to different concentrations of oxygen. It was found that the bacteria moved quickly away from even the slightest trace of oxygen. Then a dish of the bacteria was taken, and a light was focused on one part of the dish, leaving the rest dark. As the bacteria cannot survive without light, all the bacteria moved into the circle of light, becoming very crowded. If the bacteria's byproduct was oxygen, the distances between individuals would become larger and larger as more oxygen was produced. But because of the bacteria's behavior in the focused light, it was concluded that the bacteria's photosynthetic byproduct could not be oxygen.

In a 2018 Frontiers in Energy Research [de] article, it has been suggested that purple bacteria can be used as a biorefinery.[11][12]


Researchers have theorized that some purple bacteria are related to the mitochondria, symbiotic bacteria in plant and animal cells today that act as organelles. Comparisons of their protein structure suggests that there is a common ancestor.[13]


Purple non-sulfur bacteria are found among the alpha and beta subgroups, including:

Purple sulfur bacteria are included among the gamma subgroup and make up the order Chromatiales. The similarity between the photosynthetic machinery in these different lines indicates that it had a common origin, either from some common ancestor or passed by lateral transfer.


  1. ^ D. A. Bryant, N.-U. Frigaard (November 2006). "Prokaryotic photosynthesis and phototrophy illuminated". Trends Microbiol. 14 (11): 488–96. doi:10.1016/j.tim.2006.09.001. PMID 16997562.
  2. ^ A. A. Tsygankov; A. N. Khusnutdinova (January 2015). "Hydrogen in metabolism of purple bacteria and prospects of practical application". Microbiology. 84 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1134/S0026261715010154.
  3. ^ "Structure, Function and Formation of Bacterial Intracytoplasmic Membranes". ResearchGate. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  4. ^ a b Alastair G. McEwan (March 1994). "Photosynthetic electron transport and anaerobic metabolism in purple non-sulfur phototrophic bacteria". Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. 66 (1–3): 151–164. doi:10.1007/BF00871637. PMID 7747929.
  5. ^ Klamt, Steffen; Grammel, Hartmut; Straube, Ronny; Ghosh, Robin; Gilles, Ernst Dieter (2008-01-15). "Modeling the electron transport chain of purple non-sulfur bacteria". Molecular Systems Biology. 4: 156. doi:10.1038/msb4100191. ISSN 1744-4292. PMC 2238716. PMID 18197174.
  6. ^ Cogdell, Richard J; Gall, Andrew; Köhler, Jürgen (August 2006). "The architecture andfunction of the light-harvesting apparatus of purple bacteria: from singlemolecules to in vivomembranes". Quarterly Reviews of Biophysics. 39 (3): 227–324. doi:10.1017/S0033583506004434. PMID 17038210. Retrieved 8 October 2017.
  7. ^ E., Blankenship, Robert (2002). Molecular mechanisms of photosynthesis. Oxford: Blackwell Science. ISBN 9780632043217. OCLC 49273347.
  8. ^ Hu, Xiche; Damjanović, Ana; Ritz, Thorsten; Schulten, Klaus (1998-05-26). "Architecture and mechanism of the light-harvesting apparatus of purple bacteria". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 95 (11): 5935–5941. Bibcode:1998PNAS...95.5935H. doi:10.1073/pnas.95.11.5935. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 34498. PMID 9600895.
  9. ^ a b "The architecture and function of the light-harvesting apparatus of purple bacteria: from single molecules to in vivo membranes". ProQuest. Retrieved 2017-10-08.
  10. ^ Basak, Nitai; Das, Debabrata (2007-01-01). "The Prospect of Purple Non-Sulfur (PNS) Photosynthetic Bacteria for Hydrogen Production: The Present State of the Art". World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology. 23 (1): 31–42. doi:10.1007/s11274-006-9190-9. ISSN 0959-3993.
  11. ^ "Purple bacteria 'batteries' turn sewage into clean energy". Science Daily. November 13, 2018. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  12. ^ Ioanna A. Vasiliadou et al. (13 November 2018). "Biological and Bioelectrochemical Systems for Hydrogen Production and Carbon Fixation Using Purple Phototrophic Bacteria". Frontiers in Energy Research. 6. doi:10.3389/fenrg.2018.00107.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  13. ^ Bui, E. T.; Bradley, P. J.; Johnson, P. J. (3 September 1996). "A Common Evolutionary Origin for Mitochondria and Hydrogenosomes". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 93 (18): 9651–9656. Bibcode:1996PNAS...93.9651B. doi:10.1073/pnas.93.18.9651. PMC 38483. PMID 8790385.