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Microb Ecol. 2004 Jan;47(1):80-6.

Impact of clay minerals on sulfate-reducing activity in aquifers.

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  • 1Department of Botany and Microbiology, Institute for Energy and the Environment, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019, USA.


Previous studies have shown that sulfate-reduction activity occurs in a heterogeneous manner throughout the terrestrial subsurface. Low-activity regions are often observed in the presence of clay minerals. Here we report that clays inhibit sulfate reduction activity in sediments and in a pure culture of Desulfovibrio vulgaris. Clay minerals including bentonite and kaolinite inhibited sulfate reduction by 70-90% in sediments. Intact clays and clay colloids or soluble components, capable of passing through a 0.2-microm filter, were also inhibitory to sulfate-reducing bacteria. Other adsorbent materials, including anion or cation exchangers and a zeolite, did not inhibit sulfate reduction in sediments, suggesting that the effect of clays was not due to their cation-exchange capacity. We observed a strong correlation between the Al2O3 content of clays and their relative ability to inhibit sulfate reduction in sediments (r2 = 0.82). This suggested that inhibition might be a direct effect of Al3+ (aq) on the bacteria. We then tested pure aluminum oxide (Al2O3) and showed it to act in a similar manner to clay. As dissolved aluminum is known to be toxic to a variety of organisms at low concentrations, our results suggest that the effects of clay on sulfate-reducing bacteria may be directly due to aluminum. Thus, our experiments provide an explanation for the lack of sulfate-reduction activity in clay-rich regions and presents a mechanism for the effect.

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