Biooxidation of pyrite by defined mixed cultures of moderately thermophilic acidophiles in pH-controlled bioreactors: Significance of microbial interactions

Naoko Okibe, D. Barrie Johnson

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129 Citations (Scopus)


The oxidative dissolution of pyrite (FeS2) by pure and mixed cultures of moderately thermophilic acidophiles was studied in shake flask cultures and in pH-controlled bioreactors, incubated at 45°C. Various combinations of seven eubacteria (a Leptospirillum sp. (MT6), Acidimicrobium ferrooxidans, Acidithiobacillus caldus, an Alicyclobacillus sp. (Y004), and three Sulfobacillus spp.) and one archaeon (Ferroplasma sp. MT17) were examined. Pyrite dissolution was determined by measuring changes in soluble iron and generation of acidity, and microbial populations were monitored using a combined culture-dependent (plate counts) and culture-independent (fluorescent in situ hybridization) approach. In pure cultures, the most efficient pyrite-oxidizing acidophile was Leptospirillum MT6, which was unique among the prokaryotes used in being obligately autotrophic. Mixed cultures of Leptospirillum MT6 and the sulfur-oxidizer At. caldus generated more acidity than pure cultures of the iron-oxidizer, though this did not necessarily enhance pyrite dissolution. In contrast, a mixed culture of Leptospirillum MT6 and the obligate heterotroph Alicyclobacillus Y004 oxidized pyrite more rapidly and more completely than a pure culture of Leptospirillum MT6, in synchronized bioreactors. Although the autotroph, At. caldus, and the "heterotrophically inclined" iron-oxidizer, Am. ferrooxidans, were both ineffective at leaching pyrite in pure culture, a mixed culture of the two bacteria was able to accelerate dissolution of the mineral. Concentrations of dissolved organic carbon accumulated to > 100 mg/L in some mixed cultures, and the most effective bioleaching systems were found to be consortia containing both autotrophic and heterotrophic moderate thermophiles. A mixed culture comprising the autotrophs Leptospirillum MT6 and At. caldus, and the heterotroph Ferroplasma MT17, was the most efficient of all of those examined. Mutualistic interactions between physiologically distinct moderately thermophilic acidophiles, involving transfer of organic and inorganic carbon and transformations of iron and sulfur, were considered to have critical roles in optimizing pyrite dissolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)574-583
Number of pages10
JournalBiotechnology and Bioengineering
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 5 2004
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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