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Keywords:

  • Pyrite;
  • metastable iron sulfide;
  • acidification;
  • molecular phylogeny;
  • acidophile

Abstract

Soils containing an approximately equal mixture of metastable iron sulfides and pyrite occur in the boreal Ostrobothnian coastal region of Finland, termed ‘potential acid sulfate soil materials’. If the iron sulfides are exposed to air, oxidation reactions result in acid and metal release to the environment that can cause severe damage. Despite that acidophilic microorganisms catalyze acid and metal release from sulfide minerals, the microbiology of acid sulfate soil (ASS) materials has been neglected. The molecular phylogeny of a depth profile through the plough and oxidized ASS layers identified several known acidophilic microorganisms and environmental clones previously identified from acid- and metal-contaminated environments. In addition, several of the 16S rRNA gene sequences were more similar to sequences previously identified from cold environments. Leaching of the metastable iron sulfides and pyrite with an ASS microbial enrichment culture incubated at low pH accelerated metal release, suggesting microorganisms capable of catalyzing metal sulfide oxidation were present. The 16S rRNA gene analysis showed the presence of species similar to Acidocella sp. and other clones identified from acid mine environments. These data support that acid and metal release from ASSs was catalyzed by indigenous microorganisms adapted to low pH.