Journal of Nanoparticle Research

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 389–407

Metal Sulfide Cluster Complexes and their Biogeochemical Importance in the Environment


DOI: 10.1007/s11051-005-4272-4

Cite this article as:
Luther, G.W. & Rickard, D.T. J Nanopart Res (2005) 7: 389. doi:10.1007/s11051-005-4272-4


Aqueous clusters of FeS, ZnS and CuS constitute a major fraction of the dissolved metal load in anoxic oceanic, sedimentary, freshwater and deep ocean vent environments. Their ubiquity explains how metals are transported in anoxic environmental systems. Thermodynamic and kinetic considerations show that they have high stability in oxic aqueous environments, and are also a significant fraction of the total metal load in oxic river waters. Molecular modeling indicates that the clusters are very similar to the basic structural elements of the first condensed phase forming from aqueous solutions in the Fe–S, Zn–S and Cu–S systems. The structure of the first condensed phase is determined by the structure of the cluster in solution. This provides an alternative explanation of Ostwald’s Rule, where the most soluble, metastable phases form before the stable phases. For example, in the case of FeS, we showed that the first condensed phase is nanoparticulate, metastable mackinawite with a particle size of 2 nm consisting of about 150 FeS subunits, representing the end of a continuum between aqueous FeS clusters and condensed material. These metal sulfide clusters and nanoparticles are significant in biogeochemistry. Metal sulfide clusters reduce sulfide and metal toxicity and help drive ecology. FeS cluster formation drives vent ecology and AgS cluster formation detoxifies Ag in Daphnia magna neonates. We also note a new reaction between FeS and DNA and discuss the potential role of FeS clusters in denaturing DNA.


aqueous metal sulfides metal toxicity molecular clusters nanoparticles Ostwald’s Rule nanobiogeochemistry water quality 

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Marine StudiesUniversity of DelawareLewesUSA
  2. 2.School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary SciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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