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, 47 (5), 2189-96

Metal Mobilization by Iron- And Sulfur-Oxidizing Bacteria in a Multiple Extreme Mine Tailings in the Atacama Desert, Chile

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Metal Mobilization by Iron- And Sulfur-Oxidizing Bacteria in a Multiple Extreme Mine Tailings in the Atacama Desert, Chile

H Korehi et al. Environ Sci Technol.

Abstract

The marine shore sulfidic mine tailings dump at the Chañaral Bay in the Atacama Desert, northern Chile, is characterized by extreme acidity, high salinity, and high heavy metals concentrations. Due to pyrite oxidation, metals (especially copper) are mobilized under acidic conditions and transported toward the tailings surface and precipitate as secondary minerals (Dold, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2006, 40, 752-758.). Depth profiles of total cell counts in this almost organic-carbon free multiple extreme environment showed variable numbers with up to 10(8) cells g(-1) dry weight for 50 samples at four sites. Real-time PCR quantification and bacterial 16S rRNA gene diversity analysis via clone libraries revealed a dominance of Bacteria over Archaea and the frequent occurrence of the acidophilic iron(II)- and sulfur-oxidizing and iron(III)-reducing genera Acidithiobacillus, Alicyclobacillus, and Sulfobacillus. Acidophilic chemolithoautotrophic iron(II)-oxidizing bacteria were also frequently found via most-probable-number (MPN) cultivation. Halotolerant iron(II)-oxidizers in enrichment cultures were active at NaCl concentrations up to 1 M. Maximal microcalorimetrically determined pyrite oxidation rates coincided with maxima of the pyrite content, total cell counts, and MPN of iron(II)-oxidizers. These findings indicate that microbial pyrite oxidation and metal mobilization preferentially occur in distinct tailings layers at high salinity. Microorganisms for biomining with seawater salt concentrations obviously exist in nature.

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