Automated microscopical analysis of metal sulfide colonization by acidophilic microorganisms

Bellenberg, Sören and Buetti-Dinh, Antoine and Galli, Vanni and Ilie, Olga and Herold, Malte and Christel, Stephan and Boretska, Maria and Pivkin, Igor V and Wilmes, Paul and Sand, Wolfgang (2018) Automated microscopical analysis of metal sulfide colonization by acidophilic microorganisms. UNSPECIFIED. Appl. Environ. Microbiol.. AEM-01835. (In Press)

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Industrial biomining processes are currently focused on metal sulfides and their dissolution, which is catalyzed by acidophilic iron(II)-and/or sulfur-oxidizing microorganisms. Cell attachment on metal sulfides is important for this process. Biofilm formation is necessary for seeding and persistence of the active microbial community in industrial biomining heaps and tank reactors and enhances metal release. In this study, we used a method for direct quantification of the mineral-attached cell population on pyrite or chalcopyrite particles in bioleaching experiments by coupling high-throughput, automated epifluorescence microscopy imaging of mineral particles with algorithms for image analysis and cell quantification, avoiding human bias in cell counting. The method was validated by quantifying cell attachment on pyrite and chalcopyrite surfaces with axenic cultures of Acidithiobacillus caldus, Leptospirillum ferriphilum, and Sulfobacillus thermosulfidooxidans. The method confirmed the high affinity of L. ferriphilum cells to colonize pyrite and chalcopyrite surfaces and indicated that biofilm dispersal occurs in mature pyrite batch cultures of this species. Deep neural networks were also applied to analyze biofilms of different microbial consortia. Recent analysis of the L. ferriphilum genome revealed the presence of a diffusible soluble factor family (DSF) quorum sensing system. The respective signal compounds are known as biofilm dispersal agents. Biofilm dispersal was confirmed to occur in batch cultures of L. ferriphilum and S. thermosulfidooxidans upon addition of DSF family signal compounds.

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