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Appl Environ Microbiol. 1989 May; 55(5): 1249–1257.
PMCID: PMC184285

Metal Interactions with Microbial Biofilms in Acidic and Neutral pH Environments


Microbial biofilms were grown on strips of epoxy-impregnated filter paper submerged at four sites in water contaminated with metals from mine wastes. At two sample stations, the water was acidic (pH 3.1); the other sites were in a lake restored to a near neutral pH level by application of a crushed limestone slurry. During a 17-week study period, planktonic bacterial counts increased from 101 to 103 CFU/ml at all sites. Biofilm counts increased rapidly over the first 5 weeks and then leveled to 104 CFU/cm2 in the neutral pH system and 103 CFU/cm2 at the acidic sites. In each case, the biofilms bound Mn, Fe, Ni, and Cu in excess of the amounts adsorbed by control strips covered with nylon filters (pore size, 0.22 μm) to exclude microbial growth; Co bound under neutral conditions but not under acidic conditions. Conditional adsorption capacity constants, obtained graphically from the data, showed that biofilm metal uptake at a neutral pH level was enhanced by up to 12 orders of magnitude over acidic conditions. Similarly, adsorption strength values were usually higher at elevated pH levels. In thin sections of the biofilms, encapsulated bacterial cells were commonly found enmeshed together in microcolonies. The extracellular polymers often contained iron oxide precipitates which generated weak electron diffraction patterns with characteristic reflections for ferrihydrite (Fe2O3 · H2O) at d equaling 0.15 and 0.25 nm. At neutral pH levels, these deposits incorporated trace amounts of Si and exhibited a granular morphology, whereas acicular crystalloids containing S developed under acidic conditions.

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