Acidophilic S-oxidising bacteria isolated from sulphur-rich deep caves (Frasassi, Italy), characterised by relatively low temperature, were tested for their ability to mobilise (semi-)metals from contaminated sediments. Sediment samples from two commercial Italian seaports were used to set up bioleaching experiments. The effect of different growth substrates was also investigated. Our experiments revealed that S-oxidising bacteria isolated from Frasassi caves have a high potential to remove As from contaminated marine sediments, as never reported before. Although As solubilisation efficiency was quite low (i.e. about 30%), only a small amount of As was associated with non-residual fractions of the sediment. On the contrary, the solubilisation efficiencies of Zn and Ni (20% and 10%, respectively) were lower than those previously obtained by the use of other acidophilic bacteria and mainly influenced by the experimental conditions rather than by the presence of the S-oxidising bacteria. Results presented here open new perspectives in bioleaching applications for the remediation of contaminated sediments. Indeed, microbial strains adapted to relatively low-temperature environments could improve sediment bioleaching at temperature regimes where mesophilic and thermophilic strains are not favoured. Such strains could be exploited for developing selective bioremediation procedures for sediments contaminated with As, to be applied in multistep biotreatment processes.
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