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O and S isotopic composition of dissolved and attached oxidation products of pyrite by Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans: Comparison with abiotic oxidations

Abstract : The acidophilic iron-oxidizing bacterium, Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, plays a part in the pyrite oxidation process and has been widely studied in order to determine the kinetics of the reactions and the isotopic composition of dissolved product sulphates, but the details of the oxidation processes at the surface of pyrite are still poorly known. In this study, oxygen and sulphur isotopic compositions (δ18O and δ34S) were analyzed for dissolved sulphates and water from experimental aerobic acidic (pH < 2) pyrite oxidation by A. ferrooxidans. The oxidation products attached to the pyrite surfaces were studied for their morphology (SEM), their chemistry (Raman spectroscopy) and for their δ18O (ion microprobe). They were compared to abiotically (Fe3+, H2O2, O2) oxidized pyrite surface compounds in order to constrain the oxidation pathways and to look for the existence of potential biosignatures for this system. The pyrite dissolution evolved from non-stoichiometric (during the first days) to stoichiometric (with increasing time) resulting in dissolved sulphates having distinct δ18O (e.g. +11.0‰ and −2.0‰, respectively) and δ34S (+4.5‰ and +2.8‰, respectively) values. The “oxidation layer” at the surface of pyrite is complex and made of iron oxides, sulphate, polysulphide, elemental sulphur and polythionates. Bio- and Fe3+-oxidation favour the development of monophased micrometric bumps made of hematite or sulphate while other abiotic oxidation processes result in more variable oxidation products. The δ18O of these oxidation products at the surface of oxidized pyrites are strongly variable (from ≈−40‰ to ≈+30‰) for all experiments. Isotopic fractionation between sulphates and pyrite,, is equal to −1.3‰ and +0.4‰ for sulphates formed by stoichiometric and non-stoichiometric processes, respectively. These two values likely reflect either a S–S or a Fe–S bond breaking process. The and are estimated to be ≈+16‰ and ≈−25‰, respectively. These values are higher than previously published data and may reflect biological effects. The large δ18O heterogeneity measured at the surfaces of oxidized pyrites, whatever the oxidant, may be related (i) to the existence of local surface environments isolated from the solution in which the oxidation processes are different and (ii) to the stabilization at the pyrite surface of reaction intermediates that are not in isotopic equilibrium with the solution. Though the oxygen isotopic composition of surface oxidation products cannot be taken as a direct biosignature, the combined morphological, chemical and isotopic characterization of the surfaces of oxidized pyrites may furnish clues about a biological activity on a mineral surface.
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Céline Pisapia, M. Chaussidon, C. Mustin, B. Humbert. O and S isotopic composition of dissolved and attached oxidation products of pyrite by Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans: Comparison with abiotic oxidations. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Elsevier, 2007, 71 (10), pp.2474 - 2490. ⟨10.1016/j.gca.2007.02.021⟩. ⟨hal-01849171⟩



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