Reduction of hexavalent chromium by the thermophilic methanogen Methanothermobacter thermautotrophicus

Rajesh Singh, Hailiang Dong, Deng Liu, Linduo Zhao, Amy R. Marts, Erik Farquhar, David L. Tierney, Catherine B. Almquist, Brandon R. Briggs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-456
Number of pages15
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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