Active sulfur cycling in the terrestrial deep subsurface.


Environmental Microbiology Laboratory, Environmental Engineering Institute, School of Architecture, Civil and Environmental Engineering, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, 1015, Lausanne, Switzerland. [Email]


The deep terrestrial subsurface remains an environment where there is limited understanding of the extant microbial metabolisms. At Olkiluoto, Finland, a deep geological repository is under construction for the final storage of spent nuclear fuel. It is therefore critical to evaluate the potential impact microbial metabolism, including sulfide generation, could have upon the safety of the repository. We investigated a deep groundwater where sulfate is present, but groundwater geochemistry suggests limited microbial sulfate-reducing activity. Examination of the microbial community at the genome-level revealed microorganisms with the metabolic capacity for both oxidative and reductive sulfur transformations. Deltaproteobacteria are shown to have the genetic capacity for sulfate reduction and possibly sulfur disproportionation, while Rhizobiaceae, Rhodocyclaceae, Sideroxydans, and Sulfurimonas oxidize reduced sulfur compounds. Further examination of the proteome confirmed an active sulfur cycle, serving for microbial energy generation and growth. Our results reveal that this sulfide-poor groundwater harbors an active microbial community of sulfate-reducing and sulfide-oxidizing bacteria, together mediating a sulfur cycle that remained undetected by geochemical monitoring alone. The ability of sulfide-oxidizing bacteria to limit the accumulation of sulfide was further demonstrated in groundwater incubations and highlights a potential sink for sulfide that could be beneficial for geological repository safety.

OUR Recent Articles