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Iron corrosion by novel anaerobic microorganisms


Corrosion of iron presents a serious economic problem. Whereas aerobic corrosion is a chemical process1, anaerobic corrosion is frequently linked to the activity of sulphate-reducing bacteria (SRB)2,3,4,5,6. SRB are supposed to act upon iron primarily by produced hydrogen sulphide as a corrosive agent3,5,7 and by consumption of ‘cathodic hydrogen’ formed on iron in contact with water2,3,4,5,6,8. Among SRB, Desulfovibrio species—with their capacity to consume hydrogen effectively—are conventionally regarded as the main culprits of anaerobic corrosion2,3,4,5,6,8,9,10; however, the underlying mechanisms are complex and insufficiently understood. Here we describe novel marine, corrosive types of SRB obtained via an isolation approach with metallic iron as the only electron donor. In particular, a Desulfobacterium-like isolate reduced sulphate with metallic iron much faster than conventional hydrogen-scavenging Desulfovibrio species, suggesting that the novel surface-attached cell type obtained electrons from metallic iron in a more direct manner than via free hydrogen. Similarly, a newly isolated Methanobacterium-like archaeon produced methane with iron faster than do known hydrogen-using methanogens, again suggesting a more direct access to electrons from iron than via hydrogen consumption.

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Figure 1: Microscopy of cultures.
Figure 2: Phylogenetic relationships (based on 16S rRNA gene sequences) of new isolates of sulphate-reducing bacteria from enrichment cultures with metallic iron (strains IS4 and IS5) or hydrogen (strain HS2) and sulphate.
Figure 3: Incubation experiments with iron granules (30 g in 150 ml medium) as sole electron donor.


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We thank K. Nauhaus, M. Nellesen and G. Herz for technical help. This study was supported by the German Academic Exchange Service, the Fonds der Chemischen Industrie, and the Max Planck Society.

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Correspondence to Friedrich Widdel.

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This contains remarks on corrosion reactions, and additional figures. (PDF 313 kb)

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Dinh, H., Kuever, J., Mußmann, M. et al. Iron corrosion by novel anaerobic microorganisms. Nature 427, 829–832 (2004).

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