Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria from the SUP05 clade are abundant in anoxic and oxygenated marine waters that appear to lack reduced sources of sulfur for cell growth. This raises questions about how these chemosynthetic bacteria survive across oxygen and sulfur gradients and how their mode of survival impacts the environment. Here, we use growth experiments, proteomics, and cryo-electron tomography to show that a SUP05 isolate, “Candidatus Thioglobus autotrophicus,” is amorphous in shape and several times larger and stores considerably more intracellular sulfur when it respires oxygen. We also show that these cells can use diverse sources of reduced organic and inorganic sulfur at submicromolar concentrations. Enhanced cell size, carbon content, and metabolic activity of the aerobic phenotype are likely facilitated by a stabilizing surface-layer (S-layer) and an uncharacterized form of FtsZ-less cell division that supports morphological plasticity. The additional sulfur storage provides an energy source that allows cells to continue metabolic activity when exogenous sulfur sources are not available. This metabolic flexibility leads to the production of more organic carbon in the ocean than is estimated based solely on their anaerobic phenotype. IMPORTANCE Identifying shifts in microbial metabolism across redox gradients will improve efforts to model marine oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) ecosystems. Here, we show that aerobic morphology and metabolism increase cell size, sulfur storage capacity, and carbon fixation rates in “Ca. Thioglobus autotrophicus,” a chemosynthetic bacterium from the SUP05 clade that crosses oxic-anoxic boundaries.
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