Metal accumulation by solid substances can counteract metal mobilization in the environment if the solid substance is immobile. Microorganisms have a high surface area-to-volume ratio because of their small size and therefore provide a large contact area that can interact with metals in the surrounding environment. Microbial metal accumulation has received much attention in the last years due to the potential use of microorganisms for cleaning metal-polluted water. However, considerably less attention has been paid to the role of microorganisms for metal mobility in soil even though the same processes may occur there. Therefore, this paper highlights this area. The different accumulation processes that microorganisms perform are analyzed and their potential significance in soil systems is discussed.
Different kinds of mechanisms can be involved in the accumulation of metals by microorganisms, e.g. adsorption, precipitation, complexation and active transport into the cell. Physicochemical parameters like pH and ionic composition, as well as biological factors are of importance for the magnitude of accumulation. Often large amounts of metals can be accumulated with varying specificity, and microorganisms may provide nucleation sites for mineral formation.
Several studies of microbial metal accumulation have been made with different methods and aims. Most of these studies concern single-component systems with one organism at a time. Data from accumulation experiments with pure cultures of microorganisms have been used to model the overall metal retention in soil. A further development is experimental model systems using various solid soil components in salt medium.
Microbial metal accumulation is difficult to study in situ, but some experimental methods have been applied as tools for studying real soil systems, e.g. litter bags buried in soil containing microorganisms, a method where discs with microorganisms have been put onto agar plates with soil extracts, and comparison of sterilized and non-sterilized soils or soils with or without nutrient amendment.
Different aspects of microbial metal accumulation are emphasized with the different methods applied. Single-component systems have the advantage of providing excellent information of the metal binding properties of microorganisms but cannot directly be applied to metal behavior in the heterogenous systems that real soils constitute. Studies focused on the behavior of metals in real soils can, in contrast, provide information on the overall metal distribution but less insight into the processes involved. Obviously, a combination of approaches is needed to describe metal distribution and mobility in polluted soil such as areas around mines. Different kinds of multi-component systems as well as modelling may bridge the gap between these two types of studies. Several experimental methods, complementary to each other and designed to allow for comparison, may emphasize different aspects of metal accumulation and should therefore be considered.
To summarize, there are studies that indicate that microorganisms may also accumulate metals in soil and that the amounts may be considerable. However, much work remains to be done, with the focus of microorganisms in soil. It is also important to put microbial metal accumulation in relation to other microbial processes in soil, which can influence metal mobility, to determine the overall influence of soil microorganisms on metal mobility, and to be able to quantify these processes.
2000. Vol. 51, no 1-4, 1-31 p.