Specific jarosite biomineralization by Purpureocillium lilacinum, an acidophilic fungi isolated from Río Tinto


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Río Tinto (Huelva, southwestern Spain) is an extreme environment with a remarkably constant acidic pH and a high concentration of heavy metals, conditions generated by the metabolic activity of chemolithotrophic microorganisms thriving in the rich complex sulfides of the Iberian Pyrite Belt (IPB). Fungal strains isolated from the Tinto basin were characterized morphologically and phylogenetically. The strain identified as Purpureocillium lilacinum specifically induced the formation of a yellow-ocher precipitate, identified as hydronium-jarosite, an iron sulfate mineral which appears in abundance on the banks of Río Tinto. The biomineral was characterized by X-ray diffraction (XRD) and its formation was observed with high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) coupled to energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) microanalysis. Jarosite began to nucleate on the fungal cell wall, associated to the EPS, due to a local increase in the Fe3+/Fe2+ ratio which generated supersaturation. Its formation has been also observed in non-viable cells, although with much less efficiency. The occurrence of P. lilacinum in an ecosystem with high concentrations of ferric iron and sulfates such as Río Tinto suggests that it could participate in the process of jarosite precipitation, helping to shape and control the geochemical properties of this environment.