In-depth profiling of calcite precipitation by environmental bacteria reveals fundamental mechanistic differences with relevance to application

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Abstract

Microbially induced calcite precipitation (MICP) has not only helped to shape our planet's geological features but is also a promising technology to address environmental concerns in civil engineering applications. However, limited understanding of the biomineralization capacity of environmental bacteria impedes application. We therefore surveyed the environment for different mechanisms of precipitation across bacteria. The most fundamental difference was in ureolytic ability, where urease-positive bacteria caused rapid, widespread increases in pH, whereas nonureolytic strains produced such changes slowly and locally. These pH shifts correlated well with patterns of precipitation on solid medium. Strikingly, while both mechanisms led to high levels of precipitation, we observed clear differences in the precipitate. Ureolytic bacteria produced homogenous, inorganic fine crystals, whereas the crystals of nonureolytic strains were larger and had a mixed organic/inorganic composition. When representative strains were tested in application for crack healing in cement mortars, nonureolytic bacteria gave robust results, while ureolytic strains showed more variation. This may be explained by our observation that urease activity differed between growth conditions or by the different natures and therefore different material performances of the precipitates. Our results shed light on the breadth of biomineralization activity among environmental bacteria, an important step toward the rational design of bacterially based engineering solutions. IMPORTANCE Biomineralization triggered by bacteria is important in the natural environment and has many applications in industry and in civil and geotechnical engineering. The diversity in biomineralization capabilities of environmental bacteria is, however, not well understood. This study surveyed environmental bacteria for their ability to precipitate calcium carbonate minerals and investigated both the mechanisms and the resulting crystals. We show that while urease activity leads to the fastest precipitation, it is by no means essential. Importantly, the same quantities of calcium carbonate are produced by nonureolytic bacteria, and the resulting crystals appear to have larger volumes and more organic components, which are likely beneficial in specific applications. Testing both precipitation mechanisms in a self-healing concrete application showed that nonureolytic bacteria delivered more robust results. Here, we performed a systematic study of the fundamental differences in biomineralization between environmental bacteria, and we provide important information for the design of bacterially based engineering solutions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2739
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Volume86
Issue number7
Early online date18 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Mar 2020

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