Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 63, Issue 3, pp 239–248 | Cite as

Bioleaching review part A:

Progress in bioleaching: fundamentals and mechanisms of bacterial metal sulfide oxidation
  • T. Rohwerder
  • T. Gehrke
  • K. Kinzler
  • W. SandEmail author


Bioleaching of metal sulfides is caused by astonishingly diverse groups of bacteria. Today, at least 11 putative prokaryotic divisions can be related to this phenomenon. In contrast, the dissolution (bio)chemistry of metal sulfides follows only two pathways, which are determined by the acid-solubility of the sulfides: the thiosulfate and the polysulfide pathway. The bacterial cell can effect this sulfide dissolution by “contact” and “non-contact” mechanisms. The non-contact mechanism assumes that the bacteria oxidize only dissolved iron(II) ions to iron(III) ions. The latter can then attack metal sulfides and be reduced to iron(II) ions. The contact mechanism requires attachment of bacteria to the sulfide surface. The primary mechanism for attachment to pyrite is electrostatic in nature. In the case of Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, bacterial exopolymers contain iron(III) ions, each complexed by two uronic acid residues. The resulting positive charge allows attachment to the negatively charged pyrite. Thus, the first function of complexed iron(III) ions in the contact mechanism is mediation of cell attachment, while their second function is oxidative dissolution of the metal sulfide, similar to the role of free iron(III) ions in the non-contact mechanism. In both cases, the electrons extracted from the metal sulfide reduce molecular oxygen via a complex redox chain located below the outer membrane, the periplasmic space, and the cytoplasmic membrane of leaching bacteria. The dominance of either At. ferrooxidans or Leptospirillum ferrooxidans in mesophilic leaching habitats is highly likely to result from differences in their biochemical iron(II) oxidation pathways, especially the involvement of rusticyanin.


Pyrite Extracellular Polymeric Substance Metal Sulfide Acidithiobacillus Pyrite Surface 
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.



Work in our laboratory was supported by grants from the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (no. 1490954) and Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (no. 02042 and 05333) to W. Sand. We would like to thank A. Schippers (BGR, Hannover, Germany) for generously providing original drawings. We also gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Allgemeine Botanik und Botanischer Garten, Abteilung MikrobiologieUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Center for Environmental Research Leipzig-HalleLeipzigGermany

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