Biological Abatement of Acid Mine Drainage: The Role of Acidophilic Protozoa and Other Indigenous Microflora

  • D. B. Johnson
Part of the Environmental Science book series (ESE)


Extremely acidic, metal-rich environments such as acid mine drainage and industrial leachate liquors may be populated by a considerable diversity of obligate acidophilic microorganisms. These include the familiar metal-mobilising chemolithotrophic bacteria (Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, Leptospirillum ferrooxidans, etc.) as well as other bacteria and eukaryotes, some of which have received relatively little attention, but which have considerable potential either in controlling the production of acidic mine effluents, or in treating this form of pollution once it has formed. Several isolates of acidophilic protozoa have been shown to graze mineral-oxidising and other acidophilic bacteria and, in some cases, thereby to decrease the rate of pyrite oxidation in coal samples. The predator-prey relationship which exists between acidophilic bacteria and grazing protozoa has been found to suppress rather than to eliminate metal-mobilising bacteria and, at present, prospects for biological control of acid mine drainage using protozoa would appear to be somewhat remote. Other indigenous acidophilic microflora include some heterotrophic bacteria which essentially reverse the reactions of pyrite oxidation, by inducing either the dissimilatory reduction of ferric iron or of sulphate. These reactions generate net alkalinity, and also cause chalcophilic metals present in acidic effluents to precipitate as highly insoluble sulphides; they therefore have considerable potential in the development of novel bioremediation schemes for acid mine water pollution.


Acid Mine Drainage Ferric Iron Pyrite Oxidation Leachate Liquor Thiobacillus Ferrooxidans 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Cooke WB (1966) The occurrence of fungi in acid mine drainage. Proc Ind Waste Conf 21: 258–274Google Scholar
  2. Dugan PR (1987) Prevention of formation of acidic drainage from high-sulfur coal refuse by inhibition of iron-oxidizing and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. 2. Inhibition in run of mine refuse under simulated field conditions. Biotechnol Bioeng 29: 49–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ehrlich HL (1963) Microorganisms in acid drainage from a copper mine. J Bacterid 86: 350–352Google Scholar
  4. Ghauri MA, Johnson DB (1991) Physiological diversity amongst some moderately thermophilic iron-oxidising bacteria. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 85: 327–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hustwit CC, Ackman TE, Erickson PE (1992) The role of oxygen transfer in acid mine drainage ( AMD) treatment. Water Environ Res 64: 179–186Google Scholar
  6. Johnson DB (1991a) Biological desulfurization of coal using mixed populations of mesophilic and moderately thermophilic acidophilic bacteria. In: Dugan PR, Quigley DR, Attia YA (eds) Processing and utilization of high sulfur coals IV. Elsevier, New York, pp 567–580Google Scholar
  7. Johnson DB (1991b) Diversity of microbial life in highly acidic, mesophilic environments. In: Berthelin J (ed) Diversity of environmental biogeochemistry. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 225–238Google Scholar
  8. Johnson DB (1995) Acidophilic microbial communities: candidates for the bioremediation of acidic mine effluents. Int Biodeter Biodegrad 35:41–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Johnson DB, Rang L (1993) Effects of acidophilic Protozoa on populations of metal- mobilizing bacteria during the leaching of pyritic coal. J Gen Microbiol 139: 1417–1423Google Scholar
  10. Johnson DB, Ghauri MA, McGinness S (1993) Biogeochemical cycling of iron and sulphur in leaching environments. FEMS Microbiol Rev 11: 63–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Joseph JM (1953) Microbiological study of acid mine waters; preliminary report. Ohio J Sci 53:123 –127Google Scholar
  12. Kalin M, Cairns J, McCready RGL (1991) Ecological engineering methods for acid mine drainage treatment of coal wastes. Resour Conserv Recycl 5:265–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lackey JB (1938) Aquatic life in waters polluted by acid mine waste. Public Health Rep 54: 740–746Google Scholar
  14. McGinness S, Johnson DB (1992) Grazing of acidophilic bacteria by a flagellated protozoan. Microbial Ecol 23: 75–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mustin C, de Donato P, Berthelin J (1992) Quantification of the intergranular porosity formed in bioleaching of pyrite by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans. Biotechnol Bioeng 39: 1121–1127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Pronk J, Johnson DB (1992) Oxidation and reduction of iron by acidophilic bacteria. Geomicrobiol J 10: 153–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Sand W, Gehrke T, Hallmann R, Schippers A (1995) Sulfur chemistry, biofilm, and the (indirect) attack mechanism - a critical evaluation of bacterial leaching. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 43: 961 - 966CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Tuttle JH, Dugan PR, Randies CI (1969) Microbial dissimilatory sulfur cycle in acid mine water. J Bacteriol 97: 594–602Google Scholar
  19. Unz RF, Deitz JM (1986) Biological applications in the treatment of acid mine drainages. Biotechnol Bioeng Symp 16: 163–170Google Scholar
  20. Vile MA, Wieder RK (1993) Alkalinity generation by Fe(III) reduction versus sulfate reduction in wetlands constructed for acid mine drainage treatment. Water Air Soil Pollut 69: 425 – 441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ward TE, Rowland ML, Bruhn DF, Watkins CS, Roberto FF (1990) Studies on a bacteriophage which infects members of the genus Acidiphilium. In: Salley J, McCready RGL, Wichlacz PL (eds) Biohydrometallurgy 1989. Int Symp Proc, Canmet, Canada, pp 159–169Google Scholar
  22. Wieder RK (1994) Diel changes in iron (III)/iron(II) in effluent from constructed acid mine drainage treatment wetlands. J Environ Qual 23:730–738CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. B. Johnson
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of WalesBangorUK

Personalised recommendations