Characterization of an autotrophic bioreactor microbial consortium degrading thiocyanate
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Thiocyanate (SCN−) forms as a by-product of cyanidation during gold ore processing and can be degraded by a variety of microorganisms utilizing it as an energy, nitrogen, sulphur and/or carbon source. In complex consortia inhabiting bioreactor systems, a range of metabolisms are sustained by SCN− degradation; however, despite the addition or presence of labile carbon sources in most bioreactor designs to date, autotrophic bacteria have been found to dominate key metabolic functions. In this study, we cultured an autotrophic SCN−-degrading consortium directly from gold mine tailings. In a batch-mode bioreactor experiment, this consortium degraded 22 mM SCN−, accumulating ammonium (NH4 +) and sulphate (SO4 2−) as the major end products. The consortium consisted of a diverse microbial community comprised of chemolithoautotrophic members, and despite the absence of an added organic carbon substrate, a significant population of heterotrophic bacteria. The role of eukaryotes in bioreactor systems is often poorly understood; however, we found their 18S rRNA genes to be most closely related to sequences from bacterivorous Amoebozoa. Through combined chemical and phylogenetic analyses, we were able to infer roles for key microbial consortium members during SCN− biodegradation. This study provides a basis for understanding the behaviour of a SCN− degrading bioreactor under autotrophic conditions, an anticipated approach to remediating SCN− at contemporary gold mines.
KeywordsBioremediation Thiocyanate Autotrophic Bioreactor Environmental biotechnology
Funding for this research was provided by Newmarket Gold Inc. We gratefully acknowledge David Coe, Will Wettenhall, Yan Lim and Megan Parnaby for access to the field site, assistance when collecting the samples and providing access to historic chemical data.
Compliance with ethical standards
This study was funded by Newmarket Gold Inc.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
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