Environmental Technologies for Contaminated Solids, Soils and Sediments
2nd cohort

Marina Seder Colomina

Sphaerotilus natans, a neutrophilic iron-related filamentous bacterium : mechanisms of uranium scavenging


Heavy metals and radionuclides are present in some ecosystems worldwide due to natural contaminations or anthropogenic activities. The use of microorganisms to restore those polluted ecosystems, a process known as bioremediation, is of increasing interest, especially under near-neutral pH conditions. Iron minerals encrusting neutrophilic iron-related bacteria, especially Bacteriogenic Iron Oxides (BIOS), have a poorly crystalline structure, which in addition to their large surface area and reactivity make them excellent scavengers for inorganic pollutants.

In this PhD work we studied the different mechanisms of uranium scavenging by the neutrophilic bacterium Sphaerotilus natans, chosen as a model bacterium for iron-related sheath-forming filamentous microorganisms. S. natans can grow as single cells and filaments. The latter were used to investigate U(VI) biosorption and U(VI) sorption onto BIOS. In addition, uranium sorption onto the abiotic analogues of such iron minerals was assessed.

In order to use S. natans filaments for U(VI) scavenging, it was necessary to identify factors inducing S. natans filamentation. The influence of oxygen was ascertained by using molecular biology techniques and our results revealed that while saturated oxygen conditions resulted in single cell growth, a moderate oxygen depletion to ~ 3 mg O2.L-1 led to the desired filamentous growth of S. natans.

BIOS attached to S. natans filaments as well as the abiotic analogues were analysed by XAS at Fe K-edge. Both materials were identified as amorphous iron(III) phosphates with a small component of Fe(II), with a high reactivity towards scavenging of inorganic pollutants. In addition, EXAFS at the U LIII-edge revealed a common structure for the O shells, while those for P, Fe and C were different for each sorbent.

An integrated approach combining experimental techniques and speciation calculations made it possible to describe U(VI) adsorption isotherms by using a surface complexation model. These results suggested the role of phosphoryl and carboxyl groups as the main functional groups involved in the U(VI) biosorption by S. natans.

The results of this PhD work will help to better understand the processes governing U(VI) immobilization, either by S. natans biosorption, sorption onto BIOS or sorption onto iron phosphates, an thus the fate of uranium in near-neutral pH environments