Microbial Ecology

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 80–86 | Cite as

Impact of Clay Minerals on Sulfate-Reducing Activity in Aquifers

  • D. Wong
  • J. M. Suflita
  • J. P. McKinley
  • L. R. Krumholz


Previous studies have shown that sulfate-reduction activity occurs in a heterogeneous manner throughout the terrestrial subsurface. Low-activity regions are often observed in the presence of clay minerals. Here we report that clays inhibit sulfate reduction activity in sediments and in a pure culture of Desulfovibrio vulgaris. Clay minerals including bentonite and kaolinite inhibited sulfate reduction by 70–90% in sediments. Intact clays and clay colloids or soluble components, capable of passing through a 0.2-µm filter, were also inhibitory to sulfate-reducing bacteria. Other adsorbent materials, including anion or cation exchangers and a zeolite, did not inhibit sulfate reduction in sediments, suggesting that the effect of clays was not due to their cation-exchange capacity. We observed a strong correlation between the Al2O3 content of clays and their relative ability to inhibit sulfate reduction in sediments (r 2 = 0.82). This suggested that inhibition might be a direct effect of Al3+ (aq) on the bacteria. We then tested pure aluminum oxide (Al2O3) and showed it to act in a similar manner to clay. As dissolved aluminum is known to be toxic to a variety of organisms at low concentrations, our results suggest that the effects of clay on sulfate-reducing bacteria may be directly due to aluminum. Thus, our experiments provide an explanation for the lack of sulfate-reduction activity in clay-rich regions and presents a mechanism for the effect.


Clay Zeolite Clay Mineral Kaolinite Sulfate Reduction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This work was funded by the Natural and Accelerated Bioremediation Research Program (NABIR) of the Office of Biological and Environmental Research of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. We thank Anne Spain for her critical reading of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Wong
    • 1
  • J. M. Suflita
    • 1
  • J. P. McKinley
    • 2
  • L. R. Krumholz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Botany and MicrobiologyInstitute for Energy and the Environment, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019USA
  2. 2.Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA 99352USA

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