Despite significant progress on iron reduction by thermophilic microorganisms, studies on their ability to reduce toxic metals are still limited, despite their common co-existence in high temperature environments (up to 70°C). In this study, Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus, an obligate thermophilic methanogen, was used to reduce hexavalent chromium. Experiments were conducted in a growth medium with H2/CO2 as substrate with various Cr6+ concentrations (0.2, 0.4, 1, 3, and 5mM) in the form of potassium dichromate (K2Cr2O7). Time-course measurements of aqueous Cr6+ concentrations using 1,5-diphenylcarbazide colorimetric method showed complete reduction of the 0.2 and 0.4mM Cr6+ solutions by this methanogen. However, much lower reduction extents of 43.6%, 13.0%, and 3.7% were observed at higher Cr6+ concentrations of 1, 3 and 5mM, respectively. These lower extents of bioreduction suggest a toxic effect of aqueous Cr6+ to cells at this concentration range. At these higher Cr6+ concentrations, methanogenesis was inhibited and cell growth was impaired as evidenced by decreased total cellular protein production and live/dead cell ratio. Likewise, Cr6+ bioreduction rates decreased with increased initial concentrations of Cr6+ from 13.3 to 1.9μMh-1. X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy revealed a progressive reduction of soluble Cr6+ to insoluble Cr3+ precipitates, which was confirmed as amorphous chromium hydroxide by selected area electron diffraction pattern. However, a small fraction of reduced Cr occurred as aqueous Cr3+. Scanning and transmission electron microscope observations of M. thermautotrophicus cells after Cr6+ exposure suggest both extra- and intracellular chromium reduction mechanisms. Results of this study demonstrate the ability of M. thermautotrophicus cells to reduce toxic Cr6+ to less toxic Cr3+ and its potential application in metal bioremediation, especially at high temperature subsurface radioactive waste disposal sites, where the temperature may reach ~70°C.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology