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Different isotope and chemical patterns of pyrite oxidation related to lag and exponential growth phases of Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans reveal a microbial growth strategy

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Brunner,  B.
Department of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Brunner, B., Yu, J. Y., Mielke, R. E., MacAskill, J. A., Madzunkov, S., McGenity, T. J., et al. (2008). Different isotope and chemical patterns of pyrite oxidation related to lag and exponential growth phases of Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans reveal a microbial growth strategy. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 270(1-2), 63-72.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0001-CD68-4
Abstract
The solution chemistry during the initial (slow increase of dissolved iron and sulfate) and main stage (rapid increase of dissolved iron and sulfate) of pyrite leaching by Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans (Af) at a starting pH of 2.05 shows significant differences. During the initial stage, ferrous iron (Fe2+) is the dominant iron species in solution and the molar ratio of produced sulfate (SO42−) and total iron (Fetot) is 1.1, thus does not reflect the stoichiometry of pyrite (FeS2). During the main stage, ferric iron (Fe3+) is the dominant iron species in solution and the SO42−:Fetot ratio is with 1.9, close to the stoichiometry of FeS2. Another difference between initial and main stage is an initial trend to slightly higher pH values followed by a drop during the main stage to pH 1.84. These observations raise the question if there are different modes of bioleaching of pyrite, and if there are, what those modes imply in terms of leaching mechanisms. Different oxygen and sulfur isotope trends of sulfate during the initial and main stages of pyrite oxidation confirm that there are two pyrite bioleaching modes. The biochemical reactions during initial stage are best explained by the net reaction FeS2 + 3O2 ⇒ Fe2+ + SO42− + SO2(g). The degassing of sulfur dioxide (SO2) acts as sink for sulfur depleted in 34S compared to pyrite, and is the cause of the SO42−:Fetot ratio of 1.1 and the near constant pH. During the exponential phase, pyrite sulfur is almost quantitatively converted to sulfate, according to the net reaction FeS2 + 15/4O2 + 1/2H2O ⇒ Fe3+ + 2SO42− + H+. We hypothesize that the transition between the modes of bioleaching of pyrite is due to the impact of the accumulation of ferrous iron, which induces changes in the metabolic activity of Af and may act as an inhibitor for the oxidation of sulfur species. This transition defines a fundamental change in the growth strategy of Af. A mode, where bacteria gain energy by oxidation of elemental sulfur to sulfite but show little growth is switched into a mode, where bacteria gain a smaller amount of energy by the oxidation of ferrous iron, but induce much faster pyrite leaching rates due to the production of ferric iron.