Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
Microbes play key geoactive roles in the biosphere, particularly in the areas of element biotransformations and biogeochemical cycling, metal and mineral transformations, decomposition, bioweathering, and soil and sediment formation. All kinds of microbes, including prokaryotes and eukaryotes and their symbiotic associations with each other and 'higher organisms', can contribute actively to geological phenomena, and central to many such geomicrobial processes are transformations of metals and minerals. Microbes have a variety of properties that can effect changes in metal speciation, toxicity and mobility, as well as mineral formation or mineral dissolution or deterioration. Such mechanisms are important components of natural biogeochemical cycles for metals as well as associated elements in biomass, soil, rocks and minerals, e.g. sulfur and phosphorus, and metalloids, actinides and metal radionuclides. Apart from being important in natural biosphere processes, metal and mineral transformations can have beneficial or detrimental consequences in a human context. Bioremediation is the application of biological systems to the clean-up of organic and inorganic pollution, with bacteria and fungi being the most important organisms for reclamation, immobilization or detoxification of metallic and radionuclide pollutants. Some biominerals or metallic elements deposited by microbes have catalytic and other properties in nanoparticle, crystalline or colloidal forms, and these are relevant to the development of novel biomaterials for technological and antimicrobial purposes. On the negative side, metal and mineral transformations by microbes may result in spoilage and destruction of natural and synthetic materials, rock and mineral-based building materials (e.g. concrete), acid mine drainage and associated metal pollution, biocorrosion of metals, alloys and related substances, and adverse effects on radionuclide speciation, mobility and containment, all with immense social and economic consequences. The ubiquity and importance of microbes in biosphere processes make geomicrobiology one of the most important concepts within microbiology, and one requiring an interdisciplinary approach to define environmental and applied significance and underpin exploitation in biotechnology.