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Environ Microbiol. 2007 Feb;9(2):298-307.

Microbial communities in a porphyry copper tailings impoundment and their impact on the geochemical dynamics of the mine waste.

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Centre d'Analyse Minérale, Faculty of Geosciences and Environment, University of Lausanne, BFSH2, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland.


The distribution and diversity of acidophilic bacteria of a tailings impoundment at the La Andina copper mine, Chile, was examined. The tailings have low sulfide (1.7% pyrite equivalent) and carbonate (1.4% calcite equivalent) contents and are stratified into three distinct zones: a surface (0-70-80 cm) 'oxidation zone' characterized by low-pH (2.5-4), a 'neutralization zone' (70-80 to 300-400 cm) and an unaltered 'primary zone' below 400 cm. A combined cultivation-dependent and biomolecular approach (terminal restriction enzyme fragment length polymorphism and 16S rRNA clone library analysis) was used to characterize the indigenous prokaryotic communities in the mine tailings. Total cell counts showed that the microbial biomass was greatest in the top 125 cm of the tailings. The largest numbers of bacteria (10(9) g(-1) dry weight of tailings) were found at the oxidation front (the junction between the oxidation and neutralization zones), where sulfide minerals and oxygen were both present. The dominant iron-/sulfur-oxidizing bacteria identified at the oxidation front included bacteria of the genus Leptospirillum (detected by molecular methods), and Gram-positive iron-oxidizing acidophiles related to Sulfobacillus (identified both by molecular and cultivation methods). Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans was also detected, albeit in relatively small numbers. Heterotrophic acidophiles related to Acidobacterium capsulatum were found by molecular methods, while another Acidobacterium-like bacterium and an Acidiphilium sp. were isolated from oxidation zone samples. A conceptual model was developed, based on microbiological and geochemical data derived from the tailings, to account for the biogeochemical evolution of the Piuquenes tailings impoundment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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