Effect of Microbial Biomass and Humic Acids on Abiotic and Biotic Magnetite Formation

Xiaohua Han, Elizabeth J. Tomaszewski, Julian Sorwat, Yongxin Pan, Andreas Kappler, James M. Byrne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Magnetite (Fe3O4) is an environmentally ubiquitous mixed-valent iron (Fe) mineral, which can form via biotic or abiotic transformation of Fe(III) (oxyhydr)oxides such as ferrihydrite (Fh). It is currently unclear whether environmentally relevant biogenic Fh from Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria, containing cell-derived organic matter, can transform to magnetite. We compared abiotic and biotic transformation: (1) abiogenic Fh (aFh); (2) abiogenic Fh coprecipitated with humic acids (aFh-HA); (3) biogenic Fh produced by phototrophic Fe(II)-oxidizer Rhodobacter ferrooxidans SW2 (bFh); and (4) biogenic Fh treated with bleach to remove biogenic organic matter (bFh-bleach). Abiotic or biotic transformation of Fh was promoted by Feaq2+ or Fe(III)-reducing bacteria. Feaq2+-catalyzed abiotic reaction with aFh and bFh-bleach led to complete transformation to magnetite. In contrast, aFh-HA only partially (68%) transformed to magnetite, and bFh (17%) transformed to goethite. We hypothesize that microbial biomass stabilized bFh against reaction with Feaq2+. All four Fh substrates were transformed into magnetite during biotic reduction, suggesting that Fh remains bioavailable even when associated with microbial biomass. Additionally, there were poorly ordered magnetic components detected in the biogenic end products for aFh and aFh-HA. Nevertheless, abiotic transformation was much faster than biotic transformation, implying that initial Feaq2+ concentration, passivation of Fh, and/or sequestration of Fe(II) by bacterial cells and associated biomass play major roles in the rate of magnetite formation from Fh. These results improve our understanding of factors influencing secondary mineralization of Fh in the environment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7
Pages (from-to)4121-4130
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Early online date4 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2020


  • biogenic ferrihydrite
  • biogeochemical cycling
  • secondary mineral transformation
  • magnetic susceptibility

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