Direct microbial reduction and subsequent preservation of uranium in natural near-surface sediment.
ABSTRACT: The fate of uranium in natural systems is of great environmental importance. X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (XANES) revealed that U(VI) was reduced to U(IV) in shallow freshwater sediment at an open pit in an inactive uranium mine. Geochemical characterization of the sediment showed that nitrate, Fe(III), and sulfate had also been reduced in the sediment. Observations of the sediment particles and microbial cells by scanning and transmission electron microscopy, coupled with elemental analysis by energy dispersive spectroscopy, revealed that uranium was concentrated at microbial cell surfaces. U(IV) was not associated with framboidal pyrite or nanometer-scale iron sulfides, which are presumed to be of microbial origin. Uranium concentrations were not detected in association with algal cells. Phylogenetic analyses of microbial populations in the sediment by the use of 16S rRNA and dissimilatory sulfite reductase gene sequences detected organisms belonging to the families Geobacteraceae and Desulfovibrionaceae. Cultivated members of these lineages reduce U(VI) and precipitate iron sulfides. The association of uranium with cells, but not with sulfide surfaces, suggests that U(VI) is reduced by the enzymatic activities of microorganisms. Uranium was highly enriched (760 ppm) in a subsurface black layer in unsaturated sediment sampled from a pit which was exposed to seasonal fluctuations in the pond level. XANES analysis showed that the majority of uranium in this layer was U(IV), indicating that uranium is preserved in its reduced form after burial.
Project description:Speciation of solid-phase uranium in uranium-contaminated subsurface sediments undergoing uranium bioremediation demonstrated that although microbial reduction of soluble U(VI) readily immobilized uranium as U(IV), a substantial portion of the U(VI) in the aquifer was strongly associated with the sediments and was not microbially reducible. These results have important implications for in situ uranium bioremediation strategies.
Project description:Stimulating the microbially-mediated precipitation of uranium biominerals may be used to treat groundwater contamination at nuclear sites. The majority of studies to date have focussed on the reductive precipitation of uranium as U(IV) by U(VI)- and Fe(III)-reducing bacteria such as Geobacter and Shewanella species, although other mechanisms of uranium removal from solution can occur, including the precipitation of uranyl phosphates via bacterial phosphatase activity. Here we present the results of uranium biomineralisation experiments using an isolate of Serratia obtained from a sediment sample representative of the Sellafield nuclear site, UK. When supplied with glycerol phosphate, this Serratia strain was able to precipitate 1 mM of soluble U(VI) as uranyl phosphate minerals from the autunite group, under anaerobic and fermentative conditions. Under phosphate-limited anaerobic conditions and with glycerol as the electron donor, non-growing Serratia cells could precipitate 0.5 mM of uranium supplied as soluble U(VI), via reduction to nano-crystalline U(IV) uraninite. Some evidence for the reduction of solid phase uranyl(VI) phosphate was also observed. This study highlights the potential for Serratia and related species to play a role in the bioremediation of uranium contamination, via a range of different metabolic pathways, dependent on culturing or in situ conditions.
Project description:Early studies with Geobacter sulfurreducens suggested that outer-surface c-type cytochromes might play a role in U(VI) reduction, but it has recently been suggested that there is substantial U(VI) reduction at the surface of the electrically conductive pili known as microbial nanowires. This phenomenon was further investigated. A strain of G. sulfurreducens, known as Aro-5, which produces pili with substantially reduced conductivity reduced U(VI) nearly as well as the wild type, as did a strain in which the gene for PilA, the structural pilin protein, was deleted. In order to reduce rates of U(VI) reduction to levels less than 20% of the wild-type rates, it was necessary to delete the genes for the five most abundant outer surface c-type cytochromes of G. sulfurreducens. X-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy demonstrated that whereas 83% ± 10% of the uranium associated with wild-type cells correspond to U(IV) after 4 h of incubation, with the quintuple mutant, 89% ± 10% of uranium was U(VI). Transmission electron microscopy and X-ray energy dispersion spectroscopy revealed that wild-type cells did not precipitate uranium along pili as previously reported, but U(IV) was precipitated at the outer cell surface. These findings are consistent with those of previous studies, which have suggested that G. sulfurreducens requires outer-surface c-type cytochromes but not pili for the reduction of soluble extracellular electron acceptors.
Project description:Historically, it is believed that crystalline uraninite, produced via the abiotic reduction of hexavalent uranium (U(VI)) is the dominant reduced U species formed in low-temperature uranium roll-front ore deposits. Here we show that non-crystalline U(IV) generated through biologically mediated U(VI) reduction is the predominant U(IV) species in an undisturbed U roll-front ore deposit in Wyoming, USA. Characterization of U species revealed that the majority (?58-89%) of U is bound as U(IV) to C-containing organic functional groups or inorganic carbonate, while uraninite and U(VI) represent only minor components. The uranium deposit exhibited mostly 238U-enriched isotope signatures, consistent with largely biotic reduction of U(VI) to U(IV). This finding implies that biogenic processes are more important to uranium ore genesis than previously understood. The predominance of a relatively labile form of U(IV) also provides an opportunity for a more economical and environmentally benign mining process, as well as the design of more effective post-mining restoration strategies and human health-risk assessment.
Project description:The stimulation of bacterial activities that convert hexavalent uranium, U(VI), to tetravalent uranium, U(IV), appears to be feasible for cost-effective remediation of contaminated aquifers. However, U(VI) reduction typically results in the precipitation of U(IV) particles less than 5 nanometers in diameter, except for environmental conditions enriched with iron. Because these tiny particles are mobile and susceptible to oxidative dissolution after the termination of nutrient injection, in situ bioremediation remains to be impractical. Here we show that U(IV) nanoparticles of coffinite (U(SiO4)1-x(OH)4x) formed in fracture-filling calcium carbonate in a granitic aquifer. In situ U-Pb isotope dating demonstrates that U(IV) nanoparticles have been sequestered in the calcium carbonate for at least 1 million years. As the microbiologically induced precipitation of calcium carbonate in aquifer systems worldwide is extremely common, we anticipate simultaneous stimulation of microbial activities for precipitation reactions of calcium carbonate and U(IV) nanoparticles, which leads to long-term sequestration of uranium and other radionuclides in contaminated aquifers and deep geological repositories.
Project description:Ferrihydrite was exposed to U(VI)-containing cement leachate (pH 10.5) and aged to induce crystallization of hematite. A combination of chemical extractions, TEM, and XAS techniques provided the first evidence that adsorbed U(VI) (?3000 ppm) was incorporated into hematite during ferrihydrite aggregation and the early stages of crystallization, with continued uptake occurring during hematite ripening. Analysis of EXAFS and XANES data indicated that the U(VI) was incorporated into a distorted, octahedrally coordinated site replacing Fe(III). Fitting of the EXAFS showed the uranyl bonds lengthened from 1.81 to 1.87 Å, in contrast to previous studies that have suggested that the uranyl bond is lost altogether upon incorporation into hematite. The results of this study both provide a new mechanistic understanding of uranium incorporation into hematite and define the nature of the bonding environment of uranium within the mineral structure. Immobilization of U(VI) by incorporation into hematite has clear and important implications for limiting uranium migration in natural and engineered environments.
Project description:Reduction of soluble uranium U(VI) to less-soluble uranium U(IV) is a promising approach to minimize migration from contaminated aquifers. It is generally assumed that, under constant reducing conditions, U(IV) is stable and immobile; however, in a previous study, we documented reoxidation of U(IV) under continuous reducing conditions (Wan et al., Environ. Sci. Technol. 2005, 39:6162-6169). To determine if changes in microbial community composition were a factor in U(IV) reoxidation, we employed a high-density phylogenetic DNA microarray (16S microarray) containing 500,000 probes to monitor changes in bacterial populations during this remediation process. Comparison of the 16S microarray with clone libraries demonstrated successful detection and classification of most clone groups. Analysis of the most dynamic groups of 16S rRNA gene amplicons detected by the 16S microarray identified five clusters of bacterial subfamilies responding in a similar manner. This approach demonstrated that amplicons of known metal-reducing bacteria such as Geothrix fermentans (confirmed by quantitative PCR) and those within the Geobacteraceae were abundant during U(VI) reduction and did not decline during the U(IV) reoxidation phase. Significantly, it appears that the observed reoxidation of uranium under reducing conditions occurred despite elevated microbial activity and the consistent presence of metal-reducing bacteria. High-density phylogenetic microarrays constitute a powerful tool, enabling the detection and monitoring of a substantial portion of the microbial population in a routine, accurate, and reproducible manner.
Project description:In this study, we report the results of in situ U(VI) bioreduction experiments at the Integrated Field Research Challenge site in Rifle, Colorado, USA. Columns filled with sediments were deployed into a groundwater well at the site and, after a period of conditioning with groundwater, were amended with a mixture of groundwater, soluble U(VI), and acetate to stimulate the growth of indigenous microorganisms. Individual reactors were collected as various redox regimes in the column sediments were achieved: (i) during iron reduction, (ii) just after the onset of sulfate reduction, and (iii) later into sulfate reduction. The speciation of U retained in the sediments was studied using X-ray absorption spectroscopy, electron microscopy, and chemical extractions. Circa 90% of the total uranium was reduced to U(IV) in each reactor. Noncrystalline U(IV) comprised about two-thirds of the U(IV) pool, across large changes in microbial community structure, redox regime, total uranium accumulation, and reaction time. A significant body of recent research has demonstrated that noncrystalline U(IV) species are more suceptible to remobilization and reoxidation than crystalline U(IV) phases such as uraninite. Our results highlight the importance of considering noncrystalline U(IV) formation across a wide range of aquifer parameters when designing in situ remediation plans.
Project description:Sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) can affect metal mobility either directly by reductive transformation of metal ions, e.g., uranium, into their insoluble forms or indirectly by formation of metal sulfides. This study evaluated in situ and biostimulated activity of SRB in groundwater-influenced soils from a creek bank contaminated with heavy metals and radionuclides within the former uranium mining district of Ronneburg, Germany. In situ activity of SRB, measured by the (35)SO(4)(2-) radiotracer method, was restricted to reduced soil horizons with rates of < or =142 +/- 20 nmol cm(-3) day(-1). Concentrations of heavy metals were enriched in the solid phase of the reduced horizons, whereas pore water concentrations were low. X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) measurements demonstrated that approximately 80% of uranium was present as reduced uranium but appeared to occur as a sorbed complex. Soil-based dsrAB clone libraries were dominated by sequences affiliated with members of the Desulfobacterales but also the Desulfovibrionales, Syntrophobacteraceae, and Clostridiales. [(13)C]acetate- and [(13)C]lactate-biostimulated soil microcosms were dominated by sulfate and Fe(III) reduction. These processes were associated with enrichment of SRB and Geobacteraceae; enriched SRB were closely related to organisms detected in soils by using the dsrAB marker. Concentrations of soluble nickel, cobalt, and occasionally zinc declined < or =100% during anoxic soil incubations. In contrast to results in other studies, soluble uranium increased in carbon-amended treatments, reaching < or =1,407 nM in solution. Our results suggest that (i) ongoing sulfate reduction in contaminated soil resulted in in situ metal attenuation and (ii) the fate of uranium mobility is not predictable and may lead to downstream contamination of adjacent ecosystems.
Project description:Massively parallel sequencing has provided a more affordable and high-throughput method to study microbial communities, although it has mostly been used in an exploratory fashion. We combined pyrosequencing with a strict indicator species statistical analysis to test if bacteria specifically responded to ethanol injection that successfully promoted dissimilatory uranium(VI) reduction in the subsurface of a uranium contamination plume at the Oak Ridge Field Research Center in Tennessee. Remediation was achieved with a hydraulic flow control consisting of an inner loop, where ethanol was injected, and an outer loop for flow-field protection. This strategy reduced uranium concentrations in groundwater to levels below 0.126 ?M and created geochemical gradients in electron donors from the inner-loop injection well toward the outer loop and downgradient flow path. Our analysis with 15 sediment samples from the entire test area found significant indicator species that showed a high degree of adaptation to the three different hydrochemical-created conditions. Castellaniella and Rhodanobacter characterized areas with low pH, heavy metals, and low bioactivity, while sulfate-, Fe(III)-, and U(VI)-reducing bacteria (Desulfovibrio, Anaeromyxobacter, and Desulfosporosinus) were indicators of areas where U(VI) reduction occurred. The abundance of these bacteria, as well as the Fe(III) and U(VI) reducer Geobacter, correlated with the hydraulic connectivity to the substrate injection site, suggesting that the selected populations were a direct response to electron donor addition by the groundwater flow path. A false-discovery-rate approach was implemented to discard false-positive results by chance, given the large amount of data compared.