Molybdenum Availability is Key to Nitrate Removal in Contaminated Groundwater Environments


Michael P. Thorgersen, W. Andrew Lancaster, Brian J. Vaccaro, Farris L. Poole, Andrea M. Rocha, Tonia Mehlhorn, Angelica Pettenato, Jayashree Ray, R. Jordan Waters, Ryan A. Melnyk, Romy Chakraborty, Terry C. Hazen, Adam M. Deutschbauer, Adam P. Arkin, Michael W. W. Adams


The concentrations of molybdenum (Mo) and 25 other metals were measured in groundwater samples from 80 wells on the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) (Oak Ridge, TN), many of which are contaminated with nitrate, as well as uranium and various other metals. The concentrations of nitrate and uranium were in the ranges of 0.1 μM to 230 mM and <0.2 nM to 580 μM, respectively. Almost all metals examined had significantly greater median concentrations in a subset of wells that were highly contaminated with uranium (≥126 nM). They included cadmium, manganese, and cobalt, which were 1,300- to 2,700-fold higher. A notable exception, however, was Mo, which had a lower median concentration in the uranium-contaminated wells. This is significant, because Mo is essential in the dissimilatory nitrate reduction branch of the global nitrogen cycle. It is required at the catalytic site of nitrate reductase, the enzyme that reduces nitrate to nitrite. Moreover, more than 85% of the groundwater samples contained less than 10 nM Mo, whereas concentrations of 10 to 100 nM Mo were required for efficient growth by nitrate reduction for two Pseudomonas strains isolated from ORR wells and by a model denitrifier, Pseudomonas stutzeri RCH2. Higher concentrations of Mo tended to inhibit the growth of these strains due to the accumulation of toxic concentrations of nitrite, and this effect was exacerbated at high nitrate concentrations. The relevance of these results to a Mo-based nitrate removal strategy and the potential community-driving role that Mo plays in contaminated environments are discussed.

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Thorgersen MP, Lancaster WA, Vaccaro BJ, Poole FL, Rocha AM, Mehlhorn T, Pettenato A, Ray J, Waters RJ, Melnyk RA, Chakraborty R, Hazen TC, Deutschbauer AM, Arkin AP, Adams MWW. 2015. Molybdenum availability is key to nitrate removal in contaminated groundwater environments. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 81:4976-4983.