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Field evidence of selenium bioreduction in a uranium-contaminated aquifer


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Removal of selenium from groundwater was documented during injection of acetate into a uranium-contaminated aquifer near Rifle, Colorado (USA). Bioreduction of aqueous selenium to its elemental form (Se0) concentrated it within mineralized biofilms affixed to tubing used to circulate acetate-amended groundwater. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed close association between Se0 precipitates and cell surfaces, with Se0 aggregates having a diameter of 50–60 nm. Accumulation of Se0 within biofilms occurred over a three-week interval at a rate of c. 9 mg Se0 m−2 tubing day−1. Removal was inferred to result from the activity of a mixed microbial community within the biofilms capable of coupling acetate oxidation to the reduction of oxygen, nitrate and selenate. Phylogenetic analysis of the biofilm revealed a community dominated by strains of Dechloromonas sp. and Thauera sp., with isolates exhibiting genetic similarity to the latter known to reduce selenate to Se0. Enrichment cultures of selenate-respiring microorganisms were readily established using Rifle site groundwater and acetate, with cultures dominated by strains closely related to D. aromatica (96–99% similarity). Predominance of Dechloromonas sp. in recovered biofilms and enrichments suggests this microorganism may play a role in the removal of selenium oxyanions present in Se-impacted groundwaters and sediments.