Marine sulfate-reducing bacteria cause serious corrosion of iron under electroconductive biogenic mineral crust


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Abstract

SummaryIron (Fe0) corrosion in anoxic environments (e.g. inside pipelines), a process entailing considerable economic costs, is largely influenced by microorganisms, in particular sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). The process is characterized by formation of black crusts and metal pitting. The mechanism is usually explained by the corrosiveness of formed H2S, and scavenge of ‘cathodic’ H2 from chemical reaction of Fe0 with H2O. Here we studied peculiar marine SRB that grew lithotrophically with metallic iron as the only electron donor. They degraded up to 72% of iron coupons (10 mm × 10 mm × 1 mm) within five months, which is a technologically highly relevant corrosion rate (0.7 mm Fe0 year−1), while conventional H2-scavenging control strains were not corrosive. The black, hard mineral crust (FeS, FeCO3, Mg/CaCO3) deposited on the corroding metal exhibited electrical conductivity (50 S m−1). This was sufficient to explain the corrosion rate by electron flow from the metal (4Fe0 → 4Fe2+ + 8e-) through semiconductive sulfides to the crust-colonizing cells reducing sulfate (8e- + SO42− + 9H+ → HS- + 4H2O). Hence, anaerobic microbial iron corrosion obviously bypasses H2 rather than depends on it. SRB with such corrosive potential were revealed at naturally high numbers at a coastal marine sediment site. Iron coupons buried there were corroded and covered by the characteristic mineral crust. It is speculated that anaerobic biocorrosion is due to the promiscuous use of an ecophysiologically relevant catabolic trait for uptake of external electrons from abiotic or biotic sources in sediments.

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