The possibility that sulfate-reducing microorganisms contribute to U(VI) reduction in sedimentary environments was investigated. U(VI) was reduced to U(IV) when washed cells of sulfate-grown Desulfovibrio desulfuricans were suspended in a bicarbonate buffer with lactate or H2 as the electron donor. There was no U(VI) reduction in the absence of an electron donor or when the cells were killed by heat prior to the incubation. The rates of U(VI) reduction were comparable to those in respiratory Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms. Azide or prior exposure of the cells to air did not affect the ability of D. desulfuricans to reduce U(VI). Attempts to grow D. desulfuricans with U(VI) as the electron acceptor were unsuccessful. U(VI) reduction resulted in the extracellular precipitation of the U(IV) mineral uraninite. The presence of sulfate had no effect on the rate of U(VI) reduction. Sulfate and U(VI) were reduced simultaneously. Enzymatic reduction of U(VI) by D. desulfuricans was much faster than nonenzymatic reduction of U(VI) by sulfide, even when cells of D. desulfuricans were added to provide a potential catalytic surface for the nonenzymatic reaction. The results indicate that enzymatic U(VI) reduction by sulfate-reducing microorganisms may be responsible for the accumulation of U(IV) in sulfidogenic environments. Furthermore, since the reduction of U(VI) to U(IV) precipitates uranium from solution, D. desulfuricans might be a useful organisms for recovering uranium from contaminated waters and waste streams.
Additional publication details
Reduction of uranium by Desulfovibrio desulfuricans