In situ stimulation of the metabolic activity of Geobacter species through acetate amendment has been shown to be a promising bioremediation strategy to reduce and immobilize hexavalent uranium [U(VI)] as insoluble U(IV). Although Geobacter species are reducing U(VI), they primarily grow via Fe(III) reduction. Unfortunately, the biogeochemistry and the physiology of simultaneous reduction of multiple metals are still poorly understood. A detailed model is therefore required to better understand the pathways leading to U(VI) and Fe(III) reduction by Geobacter species. Based on recent experimental evidence of temporary electron capacitors in Geobacter we propose a novel kinetic model that physically distinguishes planktonic cells into electron-loaded and -unloaded states. Incorporation of an electron load-unload cycle into the model provides insight into U(VI) reduction efficiency, and elucidates the relationship between U(VI)- and Fe(III)-reducing activity and further explains the correlation of high U(VI) removal with high fractions of planktonic cells in subsurface environments. Global sensitivity analysis was used to determine the level of importance of geochemical and microbial processes controlling Geobacter growth and U(VI) reduction, suggesting that the electron load-unload cycle and the resulting repartition of the microbes between aqueous and attached phases are critical for U(VI) reduction. As compared with conventional Monod modeling approaches without inclusion of the electron capacitance, the new model attempts to incorporate a novel cellular mechanism that has a significant impact on the outcome of in situ bioremediation.
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