Trace metal limitation not only affects the biological function of organisms, but also the health of ecosystems and the global cycling of elements. The enzymatic machinery of microbes helps to drive critical biogeochemical cycles at the macroscale, and in many cases, the function of metalloenzyme-mediated processes may be limited by the scarcity of essential trace metals. In response to these nutrient limitations, some organisms employ a strategy of exuding metallophores, biogenic ligands that facilitate the uptake of metal ions. For example, bacterial, fungal, and graminaceous plant species are known to use Fe(III)-binding siderophores for nutrient acquisition, providing the best known and most thoroughly studied example of metallophores. However, recent breakthroughs have suggested or established the role of metallophores in the uptake of several other metallic nutrients. Furthermore, these metallophores may influence environmental trace metal fate and transport beyond nutrient acquisition. These discoveries have resulted in a deeper understanding of trace metal geochemistry and its relationship to the cycling of carbon and nitrogen in natural systems. In this review, we provide an overview of the current state of knowledge on the biogeochemistry of metallophores in trace metal acquisition, and explore established and potential metallophore systems.
Metallophores and trace metal biogeochemistry