The increasing availability of the genome sequences of microorganisms involved in important bioremediation processes makes it feasible to consider developing genome-scale models that can aid in predicting the likely outcome of potential subsurface bioremediation strategies. Previous studies of the in situ bioremediation of uranium-contaminated groundwater have demonstrated that Geobacter species are often the dominant members of the groundwater community during active bioremediation and the primary organisms catalysing U(VI) reduction. Therefore, a genome-scale, constraint-based model of the metabolism of Geobacter sulfurreducens was coupled with the reactive transport model HYDROGEOCHEM in an attempt to model in situ uranium bioremediation. In order to simplify the modelling, the influence of only three growth factors was considered: acetate, the electron donor added to stimulate U(VI) reduction; Fe(III), the electron acceptor primarily supporting growth of Geobacter; and ammonium, a key nutrient. The constraint-based model predicted that growth yields of Geobacter varied significantly based on the availability of these three growth factors and that there are minimum thresholds of acetate and Fe(III) below which growth and activity are not possible. This contrasts with typical, empirical microbial models that assume fixed growth yields and the possibility for complete metabolism of the substrates. The coupled genome-scale and reactive transport model predicted acetate concentrations and U(VI) reduction rates in a field trial of in situ uranium bioremediation that were comparable to the predictions of a calibrated conventional model, but without the need for empirical calibration, other than specifying the initial biomass of Geobacter. These results suggest that coupling genome-scale metabolic models with reactive transport models may be a good approach to developing models that can be truly predictive, without empirical calibration, for evaluating the probable response of subsurface microorganisms to possible bioremediation approaches prior to implementation.
© 2009 Battelle Memorial Institute. Journal compilation © 2009 Society for Applied Microbiology and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.