Clay minerals are ubiquitous in soils, sediments, and sedimentary rocks and could coexist with sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in anoxic environments, however, the interactions of clay minerals and SRB are not well understood. The objective of this study was to understand the reduction rate and capacity of structural Fe(III) in dioctahedral clay minerals by a mesophilic SRB, Desulfovibrio vulgaris and the potential role in catalyzing smectite illitization. Bioreduction experiments were performed in batch systems, where four different clay minerals (nontronite NAu-2, mixed-layer illite-smectite RAr-1 and ISCz-1, and illite IMt-1) were exposed to D. vulgaris in a non-growth medium with and without anthraquinone-2,6-disulfonate (AQDS) and sulfate. Our results demonstrated that D. vulgaris was able to reduce structural Fe(III) in these clay minerals, and AQDS enhanced the reduction rate and extent. In the presence of AQDS, sulfate had little effect on Fe(III) bioreduction. In the absence of AQDS, sulfate increased the reduction rate and capacity, suggesting that sulfide produced during sulfate reduction reacted with the phyllosilicate Fe(III). The extent of bioreduction of structural Fe(III) in the clay minerals was positively correlated with the percentage of smectite and mineral surface area of these minerals. X-ray diffraction, and scanning and transmission electron microscopy results confirmed formation of illite after bioreduction. These data collectively showed that D. vulgaris could promote smectite illitization through reduction of structural Fe(III) in clay minerals. ?? 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.