Microbial acceleration of aerobic pyrite oxidation at circumneutral pH


Pyrite (FeS2) is the most abundant sulfide mineral on Earth and represents a significant reservoir of reduced iron and sulfur both today and in the geologic past. In modern environments, oxidative transformations of pyrite and other metal sulfides play a key role in terrestrial element partitioning with broad impacts to contaminant mobility and the formation of acid mine drainage systems. Although the role of aerobic micro-organisms in pyrite oxidation under acidic-pH conditions is well known, to date there is very little known about the capacity for aerobic micro-organisms to oxidize pyrite at circumneutral pH. Here, we describe two enrichment cultures, obtained from pyrite-bearing subsurface sediments, that were capable of sustained cell growth linked to pyrite oxidation and sulfate generation at neutral pH. The cultures were dominated by two Rhizobiales species (Bradyrhizobium sp. and Mesorhizobium sp.) and a Ralstonia species. Shotgun metagenomic sequencing and genome reconstruction indicated the presence of Fe and S oxidation pathways in these organisms, and the presence of a complete Calvin–Benson–Bassham CO2 fixation system in the Bradyrhizobium sp. Oxidation of pyrite resulted in thin (30–50 nm) coatings of amorphous Fe(III) oxide on the pyrite surface, with no other secondary Fe or S phases detected by electron microscopy or X-ray absorption spectroscopy. Rates of microbial pyrite oxidation were approximately one order of magnitude higher than abiotic rates. These results demonstrate the ability of aerobic microbial activity to accelerate pyrite oxidation and expand the potential contribution of micro-organisms to continental sulfide mineral weathering around the time of the Great Oxidation Event to include neutral-pH environments. In addition, our findings have direct implications for the geochemistry of modern sedimentary environments, including stimulation of the early stages of acid mine drainage formation and mobilization of pyrite-associated metals.




Percak-Dennett, E. , S. He, B. Converse, H. Konishi, H. Xu, A. Corcoran, D. Noguera, C. Chan, A. Bhattacharyya, T. Borch, Eric Boyd, and E. E. Roden. "Microbial acceleration of aerobic pyrite oxidation at circumneutral pH." Geobiology (September 2017). DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12241.
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