Mineral stimulation of subsurface microorganisms: release of limiting nutrients from silicates

Chemical Geology
By:  and 



Microorganisms play an important role in the weathering of silicate minerals in many subsurface environments, but an unanswered question is whether the mineral plays an important role in the microbial ecology. Silicate minerals often contain nutrients necessary for microbial growth, but whether the microbial community benefits from their release during weathering is unclear. In this study, we used field and laboratory approaches to investigate microbial interactions with minerals and glasses containing beneficial nutrients and metals. Field experiments from a petroleum-contaminated aquifer, where silicate weathering is substantially accelerated in the contaminated zone, revealed that phosphorus (P) and iron (Fe)-bearing silicate glasses were preferentially colonized and weathered, while glasses without these elements were typically barren of colonizing microorganisms, corroborating previous studies using feldspars. In laboratory studies, we investigated microbial weathering of silicates and the release of nutrients using a model ligand-promoted pathway. A metal-chelating organic ligand 3,4 dihydroxybenzoic acid (3,4 DHBA) was used as a source of chelated ferric iron, and a carbon source, to investigate mineral weathering rate and microbial metabolism.

In the investigated aquifer, we hypothesize that microbes produce organic ligands to chelate metals, particularly Fe, for metabolic processes and also form stable complexes with Al and occasionally with Si. Further, the concentration of these ligands is apparently sufficient near an attached microorganism to destroy the silicate framework while releasing the nutrient of interest. In microcosms containing silicates and glasses with trace phosphate mineral inclusions, microbial biomass increased, indicating that the microbial community can use silicate-bound phosphate inclusions. The addition of a native microbial consortium to microcosms containing silicates or glasses with iron oxide inclusions correlated to accelerated weathering and release of Si into solution as well as the accelerated degradation of the model substrate 3,4 DHBA. We propose that silicate-bound P and Fe inclusions are bioavailable, and microorganisms may use organic ligands to dissolve the silicate matrix and access these otherwise limiting nutrients.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Mineral stimulation of subsurface microorganisms: release of limiting nutrients from silicates
Series title Chemical Geology
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2003.09.001
Volume 203
Issue 1-2
Year Published 2004
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
Description 18 p.
First page 91
Last page 108
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