Caister Academic Press

Distribution of Acidophilic Microorganisms in Natural and Man-made Acidic Environments

Sabrina Hedrich and Axel Schippers
from: Acidophiles: Life in Extremely Acidic Environments (Edited by: Raquel Quatrini and D. Barrie Johnson). Caister Academic Press, U.K. (2016) Pages: 153-176.

Abstract

Open-access article
Acidophilic microorganisms can thrive in both natural and man-made environments. Natural acidic environments comprise hydrothermal sites on land or in the deep sea, cave systems, acid sulfate soils and acidic fens, as well as naturally exposed ore deposits (gossans). Man-made acidic environments are mostly mine sites including mine waste dumps and tailings, acid mine drainage and biomining operations. The biogeochemical cycles of sulfur and iron, rather than than those of carbon and nitrogen, assume centre stage in these environments. Ferrous iron and reduced sulfur compounds originating from geothermal activity or mineral weathering provide energy sources for acidophilic, chemolithotrophic iron- and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria and archaea (including species that are autotrophic, heterotrophic or mixotrophic) and, in contrast to most other types of environments, these are often numerically dominant in acidic sites. Anaerobic growth of acidophiles can occur via the reduction of ferric iron, elemental sulfur or sulfate. While the activities of acidophiles can be harmful to the environment, as in the case of acid mine drainage, they can also be used for the extraction and recovery of metals, as in the case of biomining. Considering the important roles of acidophiles in biogeochemical cycles, pollution and biotechnology, there is a strong need to understanding of their physiology, biochemistry and ecology.
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