Floc Formation Reduces the pH Stress Experienced by Microorganisms Living in Alkaline Environments

Article, Other literature type English OPEN
Charles, C. J. ; Rout, S. P. ; Patel, K. A. ; Akbar, S. ; Laws, A. P. ; Jackson, B. R. ; Boxall, S. A. ; Humphreys, P. N. (2017)

The survival of microorganisms within a cementitious geological disposal facility for radioactive wastes is heavily dependent on their ability to survive the calcium dominated, hyper-alkaline conditions resulting from the dissolution of the cementitious materials. The present study shows that the formation of flocs, composed of a complex mixture of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), provides protection against alkaline pH values up to pH 13.0. The flocs were dominated by Alishewanella and Dietzia sp, producing a mannose rich carbohydrate fraction incorporating extracellular DNA, resulting in Ca2+ sequestration. EPS provided a ~10 µm thick layer around the cells within the centre of the flocs, which were capable of growth at pH 11.0 and 11.5, maintaining internal pH values of pH 10.4 and 10.7 respectively. Survival was observed at pH 12.0, where an internal floc pH of 11.6 was observed alongside a reduced associated biomass. Limited floc survival (<2 weeks) was observed at pH 13.0.This study demonstrates that flocs are able to maintain a lower internal pH in response to the hyperalkaline conditions expected to occur within a cementitious, geological disposal facility for radioactive wastes and indicates that floc communities within such a facility would be capable of survival up to a pH of 12.0.
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