School of Science
Australian Research Council / Institute for Geoscience Research
ARC Number : DP200103243
Microbial attachment and biofilm formation is a ubiquitous behaviour of microorganisms and is the most crucial prerequisite of contact bioleaching. Monazite and xenotime are two commercially exploitable minerals containing rare earth elements (REEs). Bioleaching using phosphate solubilizing microorganisms is a green biotechnological approach for the extraction of REEs. In this study, microbial attachment and biofilm formation of Klebsiella aerogenes ATCC 13048 on the surface of these minerals were investigated using confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). In a batch culture system, K. aerogenes was able to attach and form biofilms on the surface of three phosphate minerals. The microscopy records showed three distinctive stages of biofilm development for K. aerogenes commencing with initial attachment to the surface occurring in the first minutes of microbial inoculation. This was followed by colonization of the surface and formation of a mature biofilm as the second distinguishable stage, with progression to dispersion as the final stage. The biofilm had a thin-layer structure. The colonization and biofilm formation were localized toward physical surface imperfections such as cracks, pits, grooves and dents. In comparison to monazite and xenotime crystals, a higher proportion of the surface of the high-grade monazite ore was covered by biofilm which could be due to its higher surface roughness. No selective attachment or colonization toward specific mineralogy or chemical composition of the minerals was detected. Finally, in contrast to abiotic leaching of control samples, microbial activity resulted in extensive microbial erosion on the high-grade monazite ore.
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