Linked redox precipitation of sulfur and selenium under anaerobic conditions by sulfate-reducing bacterial biofilms

Simon L. Hockin, Geoffrey M. Gadd

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    A biofilm-forming strain of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), isolated from a naturally occurring mixed biofilm and identified by 16S rDNA analysis as a strain of Desulfomicrobium norvegicum, rapidly removed 200 µM selenite from solution during growth on lactate and sulfate. Elemental selenium and elemental sulfur were precipitated outside SRB cells. Precipitation occurred by an abiotic reaction with bacterially generated sulfide. This appears to be a generalized ability among SRB, arising from dissimilatory sulfide biogenesis, and can take place under low redox conditions and in the dark. The reaction represents a new means for the deposition of elemental sulfur by SRB under such conditions. A combination of transmission electron microscopy, environmental scanning electron microscopy, and cryostage field emission scanning electron microscopy were used to reveal the hydrated nature of SRB biofilms and to investigate the location of deposited sulfur-selenium in relation to biofilm elements. When pregrown SRB biofilms were exposed to a selenite-containing medium, nanometer-sized selenium-sulfur granules were precipitated within the biofilm matrix. Selenite was therefore shown to pass through the biofilm matrix before reacting with bacterially generated sulfide. This constitutes an efficient method for the removal of toxic concentrations of selenite from solution. Implications for environmental cycling and the fate of sulfur and selenium are discussed, and a general model for the potential action of SRB in selenium transformations is presented.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7063-7072
    Number of pages10
    JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2003


    • Biofilms
    • Deltaproteobacteria
    • Selenium chemistry
    • Sulfur metabolism


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