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Mechanisms for Fe(III) Oxide Reduction in Sedimentary Environments

Derek Lovley, University of Massachusetts - Amherst
Kelly P. Nevin


Although it was previously considered that Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms must come into direct contact with Fe(III) oxides in order to reduce them, recent studies have suggested that electron-shuttling compounds and/or Fe(III) chelators, either naturally present or produced by the Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms themselves, may alleviate the need for the Fe(III) reducers to establish direct contact with Fe(III) oxides. Studies with Shewanella alga strain BrY and Fe(III) oxides sequestered within microporous beads demonstrated for the first time that this organism releases a compound(s) that permits electron transfer to Fe(III) oxides which the organism cannot directly contact. Furthermore, as much as 450 w M dissolved Fe(III) was detected in cultures of S. alga growing in Fe(III) oxide medium, suggesting that this organism releases compounds that can solublize Fe(III) from Fe(III) oxide. These results contrast with previous studies, which demonstrated that Geobacter metallireducens does not produce electron-shuttles or Fe(III) chelators. Some freshwater aquatic sediments and groundwaters contained compounds, which could act as electron shuttles by accepting electrons from G. metallireducens and then transferring the electrons to Fe(III). However, other samples lacked significant electron-shuttling capacity. Spectroscopic studies indicated that the electron-shuttling capacity of the waters was not only associated with the presence of humic substances, but water extracts of walnut, oak, and maple leaves contained electron-shuttling compounds did not appear to be humic substances. Porewater from a freshwater aquatic sediment and groundwater from a petroleum-contaminated aquifer contained dissolved Fe(III) (4-16 w M), suggesting that soluble Fe(III) may be available as an electron acceptor in some sedimentary environments. These results demonstrate that in order to accurately model the mechanisms for Fe(III) reduction in sedimentary environments it will be necessary to have information on the concentrations of electron-shuttling compounds and possibly Fe(III) ligands. Furthermore, as it is now apparent that different genera of Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms may reduce Fe(III) via different mechanisms, knowledge of which Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms predominate in the environment of interest is essential in order to model this process appropriately.

Suggested Citation

Derek Lovley and Kelly P. Nevin. "Mechanisms for Fe(III) Oxide Reduction in Sedimentary Environments" Geomicrobiol J 19 (2002): 141-159.
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