Uranium complexes formed at hematite surfaces colonized by sulfate-reducing bacteria
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Modeling uranium (U) transport in subsurface environments requires a thorough knowledge of mechanisms likely to restrict its mobility, such as surface complexation, precipitation, and colloid formation. In closed systems, sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) such as Desulfovibrio spp. demonstrably affect U immobilization by enzymatic reduction of U(VI) species (primarily the uranyl ion, UO22+, and its complexes) to U(IV). However, our understanding of such interactions under chronic U(VI) exposure in dynamic systems is limited. As a first step to understanding such interactions, we performed bioreactor experiments under continuous flow to study the effect of a biofilm of the sulfate-reducing bacterium Desulfovibrio desulfuricans attached to specular hematite (-Fe2O3) surfaces on surface-associated U(VI) complexation, transformation, and mobility. Employing real-time microscopic observation and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), we show that the characteristics of the U(VI) complex(es) formed at the hematite surface are influenced by the composition of the bulk aqueous phase flowing across the surface and by the presence of surface-associated SRB. The XPS data further suggest higher levels of U associated with hematite surfaces colonized by SRB than with bacteria-free surfaces. Microscopic observations indicate that at least a portion of the U(VI) that accumulates in the presence of the SRB is exterior to the cells, possibly associated with the extracellular biofilm matrix. The U4f7/2 core-region spectrum and U5f2 valence-band spectrum provide preliminary evidence that the SRB-colonized hematite surface accumulates both U(VI) and U(IV) phases, whereas only the U(VI) phase(s) accumulates on uncolonized hematite surfaces. The results suggest that mineral surfaces exposed to a continuously replenished supply of U(VI)-containing aqueous phase will accumulate U phases that may be more representative of those that exist in U-contaminated aquifers than those which accumulate in closed experimental systems. These phases should be considered in models attempting to predict U transport through subsurface environments.
Neal AL, Amonette JE, Peyton BM, Geesey GG, "Uranium complexes formed at hematite surfaces colonized by sulfate-reducing bacteria," Environ Sci Technol, 2004 38(11):3019-3027