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Letters to Nature
Nature 350, 413 - 416 (04 April 1991); doi:10.1038/350413a0

Microbial reduction of uranium

Derek R. Lovley, Elizabeth J. P. Phillips, Yuri A. Gorby & Edward R. Landa

Water Resources Division, 430 National Center, US Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia 22092, USA

REDUCTION of the soluble, oxidized form of uranium, U(VI), to insoluble U(IV) is an important mechanism for the immobilization of uranium in aquatic sediments and for the formation of some uranium ores1–10. U(VI) reduction has generally been regarded as an abiological reaction in which sulphide, molecular hydrogen or organic compounds function as the reductant1,2,5,11. Microbial involvement in U(VI) reduction has been considered to be limited to indirect effects, such as microbial metabolism providing the reduced compounds for abiological U(VI) reduction and microbial cell walls providing a surface to stimulate abiological U(VI) reduction1,12,13. We report here, however, that dissimilatory Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms can obtain energy for growth by electron transport to U(VI). This novel form of microbial metabolism can be much faster than commonly cited abiological mechanisms for U(VI) reduction. Not only do these findings expand the known potential terminal electron acceptors for microbial energy transduction, they offer a likely explanation for the deposition of uranium in aquatic sediments and aquifers, and suggest a method for biological remediation of environments contaminated with uranium.

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