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Role of sulfate-reducing bacteria in the attenuation of acid mine drainage through sulfate and iron reduction

Caryl Ann Becerra, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Acid mine drainage (AMD) is an acidic, iron-rich leachate that causes the dissolution of metals. It constitutes a worldwide problem of environmental contamination detrimental to aquatic life and water quality. AMD, however, is naturally attenuated at Davis Mine in Rowe, Massachusetts. We hypothesize that sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) are attenuating AMD. To elucidate the mechanisms by which SRB attenuate AMD, three research projects were conducted using a suite of molecular and geochemical techniques. First we established biological influence on the attenuation of AMD by comparing the microbial community and geochemical trends of microcosms of two contrasting areas within the site: AMD attenuating (AZ) and AMD generating (GZ) zones. The differences in geochemical trends between these zones were related to differences in microbial community membership. SRB were only detected in microcosms of the AZ, while iron oxidizers were only detected in the GZ. This study indicates that biological activity contributes to the attenuation of AMD and that SRB may have a role. To further describe the role of SRB, we determined the rates of sulfate reduction, the abundance, and membership of SRB in the second project. The sulfate reduction rate was weakly correlated with the abundance of SRB. This indicates that the SRB population may be utilizing another electron acceptor. One such electron acceptor would be iron, which was investigated in the third project. When SRB are inhibited, neither accumulation of reduced iron nor the formation of reduced iron sulfide precipitates occurred. Higher concentration of sulfide produced an increase in reduced iron and pH. Therefore, iron reduction mediated by reaction with biogenic sulfide contributes to the attenuation of AMD. This is the first report of the biological enhancement of iron reduction by acidotolerant SRB. The interdisciplinary research described in this dissertation provides evidence that SRB attenuate AMD through sulfate and iron reduction and a greater understanding of SRB in acidic environments. It also demonstrates how the biogeochemical cycling of sulfur is coupled to the iron cycle. Overall, the ubiquity and metabolic versatility of SRB offers boundless potential and exciting opportunities of study in the fields of bioremediation, geomicrobiology, and microbial ecology.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Becerra, Caryl Ann, "Role of sulfate-reducing bacteria in the attenuation of acid mine drainage through sulfate and iron reduction" (2010). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3427498.