Redox cycling of Fe(II) and Fe(III) in magnetite by Fe-metabolizing bacteria

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Science  27 Mar 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6229, pp. 1473-1476
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa4834

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Building a biogeochemical battery

Iron acts as both a source and sink of electrons for microorganisms in the environment. Some anaerobic bacteria use oxidized Fe(III) as an electron acceptor, whereas phototrophic bacteria can use reduced Fe(II) as an electron donor. Byrne et al. show that the iron-bearing mineral magnetite, which contains both Fe(II) and Fe(III), can serve as both an electron acceptor and donor. Cocultures of iron-reducing and iron-oxidizing bacteria exposed to simulated day/night cycles or changes in organic matter altered the ratio of Fe(II) to Fe(III) in magnetite particles.

Science, this issue p. 1473


Microorganisms are a primary control on the redox-induced cycling of iron in the environment. Despite the ability of bacteria to grow using both Fe(II) and Fe(III) bound in solid-phase iron minerals, it is currently unknown whether changing environmental conditions enable the sharing of electrons in mixed-valent iron oxides between bacteria with different metabolisms. We show through magnetic and spectroscopic measurements that the phototrophic Fe(II)-oxidizing bacterium Rhodopseudomonas palustris TIE-1 oxidizes magnetite (Fe3O4) nanoparticles using light energy. This process is reversible in co-cultures by the anaerobic Fe(III)-reducing bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens. These results demonstrate that Fe ions bound in the highly crystalline mineral magnetite are bioavailable as electron sinks and electron sources under varying environmental conditions, effectively rendering magnetite a naturally occurring battery.

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