Inhibition of Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria by Metal Sulfide Formation in Bioremediation of Acid Mine Drainage

Environ Toxicol. 2002 Feb;17(1):40-8. doi: 10.1002/tox.10031.


Acid mine drainage (AMD) containing high concentrations of sulfate and heavy metal ions can be treated by biological sulfate reduction. It has been reported that the effect of heavy metals on sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) can be stimulatory at lower concentrations and toxic/inhibitory at higher concentrations. The quantification of the toxic/inhibitory effect of dissolved heavy metals is critical for the design and operation of an effective AMD bioremediation process. Serum bottle and batch reactor studies on metal toxicity to SRB indicate that insoluble metal sulfides can inhibit the SRB activity as well. The mechanism of inhibition is postulated to be external to the bacterial cell. The experimental data indicate that the metal sulfides formed due to the reaction between the dissolved metal and biogenic sulfide act as barriers preventing the access of the reactants (sulfate, organic matter) to the necessary enzymes. Scanning electron micrographs of the SRB cultures exposed to copper and zinc provide supporting evidence for this hypothesis. The SRB cultures retained their ability to effect sulfate reduction indicating that the metal sulfides were not lethally toxic to the SRB. This phenomenon of metal sulfide inhibition of the SRB has to be taken into account while designing a sulfate-reducing bioreator, and subsequently an efficient biotreatment strategy for AMD. Any metal sulfide formed in the bioreactor needs to be removed immediately from the system to maintain the efficiency of the process of sulfate reduction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Metals, Heavy / adverse effects*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Mining*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Population Dynamics
  • Solubility
  • Sulfides / chemistry
  • Sulfur-Reducing Bacteria / physiology*


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Sulfides