Microbial Mineral Dissolution and Environmental Disasters: Microbes and Their Mineral Interactions

Microbial Mineral Dissolution and Environmental Disasters: Microbes and Their Mineral Interactions

Arpitha Chikkanna (Indian Institute of Science, India) and Devanita Ghosh (Indian Institute of Science, India)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 27
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3126-5.ch008
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Microorganisms play very important role in elemental and mineral chemistry on earth surface. Along with the major biogeochemical cycles such as Carbon, Nitrogen, Sulphur and Phosphorus, which are crucially involved in thermodynamic balances in earth system, microbes are also involved in trace metal cycling. The organic carbon sustaining the indigenous microbial communities critically controls these microbial processes. A large number of the microbial communities are able to form a wide variety minerals, of which many have only biogenic origin and cannot be formed inorganically. Microbes also play a critical role in dissolution of minerals; a process which not only helps in soil formation and the transport of nutrients to higher trophic levels, but can also have many important industrial roles. Thus, in these metabolic activities, microorganisms contribute to the geological phenomenon of the transformation of metals and minerals. This chapter focuses on the role of various microbial metabolic processes that are involved in mineralization and mineral dissolution and the consequences involved with it.
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Mineral Formation Process

Minerals form within the Earth crust or at the Earth’s surface through natural processes. The main processes of mineral formation are:

  • 1.

    Crystallization: The formation of some minerals take place below or at the Earth’s surface through magma crystallization. Ex: Rhyolite

  • 2.

    Evaporation: Some minerals are formed when there is evaporation of seawater. Ex: Gypsum

  • 3.

    Precipitation: Some minerals are formed by hydrothermal process, diagenesis and metamorphism. Ex: Limestone.

The minerals cannot form unless the chemical ingredients necessary to form minerals are present, which is irrespective of the process.


Main Focus Of The Chapter


Mineralization is simply stated as the formation of minerals from ions in solution (Lowenstam et al., 1981; Simkiss et al., 2012). The mineralization process may also refer to:

  • 1.

    The process of formation of ore bodies or “lodes” through the hydrothermal deposition of economically important metals

  • 2.

    The process of oxidation or decomposition of the chemical compounds in organic matter into plant accessible forms

  • 3.

    The process through which an organic substance becomes impregnated by inorganic substances.

The Microorganisms exist on Earth for more than 3.5 billion years (Altermann, et al., 2003; Schoopf, 2006; Smith, 2006). These life forms are ubiquitous in the environment. Their existence is seen in hot springs, oceans, atmosphere and rock. Microbes play very important role in balancing the Ecosystem. Their presence in the environment has both beneficiary and harmful effects. The primary elements recycled by microorganisms is very much beneficiary for the maintenance of the ecosystem (Douglas et al., 1998; Gadd, 2010). Primary elements are reformed through processes such as carbon dioxide fixation, nitrogen fixation, oxygenic photosynthesis, decomposition and bioremediation. The minerals that cannot be formed inorganically are formed by microorganisms. The micro-organisms through their symbiotic associations with each other and higher organisms contribute to the geological phenomenon of transformation of metals and minerals (Hazen et al., 2008; Gadd, 2010; Dong et al., 2012).

There is a long history of co-existence and co-evolution of minerals and microorganisms on the Earth (Dong et al., 2012). This has benefitted both the microbes and minerals which have lead to fundamental changes in life and environment. Micro-organisms mediate the formation, transformation, dissolution and precipitation of minerals. This leads to changes in physical and chemical properties of minerals. Minerals on the other hand provide microbes with essential nutrients for their growth and survival (Gadd, 2010; Dong et al., 2012).

The interaction between microbes and minerals can be classified on the basis of their characteristics. From the microbial perspective, the interaction can result either through bio-mineralization or organo-mineralization (Bazylinski et al., 2003; Dong et al., 2102).

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