Previous field studies on in situ bioremediation of uranium-contaminated groundwater in an aquifer in Rifle, Colorado identified two distinct phases following the addition of acetate to stimulate microbial respiration. In phase I, Geobacter species are the predominant organisms, Fe(III) is reduced, and microbial reduction of soluble U(VI) to insoluble U(IV) removes uranium from the groundwater. In phase II, Fe(III) is depleted, sulfate is reduced, and sulfate-reducing bacteria predominate. Long-term monitoring revealed an unexpected third phase during which U(VI) removal continues even after acetate additions are stopped. All three of these phases were successfully reproduced in flow-through sediment columns. When sediments from the third phase were heat sterilized, the capacity for U(VI) removal was lost. In the live sediments U(VI) removed from the groundwater was recovered as U(VI) in the sediments. This contrasts to the recovery of U(IV) in sediments resulting from the reduction of U(VI) to U(IV) during the Fe(III) reduction phase in acetate-amended sediments. Analysis of 16S rRNA gene sequences in the sediments in which U(VI) was being adsorbed indicated that members of the Firmicutes were the predominant organisms whereas no Firmicutes sequences were detected in background sediments which did not have the capacity to sorb U(VI), suggesting that the U(VI) adsorption might be due to the presence of these living organisms or at least their intact cell components. This unexpected enhanced adsorption of U(VI) onto sediments following the stimulation of microbial growth in the subsurface may potentially enhance the cost effectiveness of in situ uranium bioremediation.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/derek_lovley/96/