Biogeochemical controls on the product of microbial U(VI) reduction
Biologically mediated immobilization of radio-nuclides in the subsurface is a promising strategy for the remediation of uranium-contaminated sites. During this process, soluble U(VI) is reduced by indigenous microorganisms to sparingly soluble U(TV). The crystalline U(IV) phase uraninite, or UO2, is the preferable end-product of bioremediation due to its relatively high stability and low solubility in comparison to biomass-associated nonuraninite U(IV) species that have been reported in laboratory and under field conditions. The goal of this study was to delineate the geochemical conditions that promote the formation of nonuraninite U(IV) versus uraninite and to decipher the mechanisms of its preferential formation. U(IV) products were prepared under varying geochemical conditions and characterized with X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM), and various wet chemical methods. We report an increasing fraction of nonuraninite U(IV) species with decreasing initial U concentration. Additionally, the presence of several common groundwater solutes (sulfate, silicate, and phosphate) promote the formation of nonuraninite U(IV). Our experiments revealed that the presence of those solutes promotes the formation of bacterial extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) and increases bacterial viability, suggesting that the formation of nonuraninite U(IV) is due to a biological response to solute presence during U(VI) reduction. The results obtained from this laboratory-scale research provide insight into biogeochemical controls on the product(s) of uranium reduction during bioremediation of the subsurface.