Bioremediation of heavy metal polluted waters.
Microorganisms have the potential to remove heavy metals from polluted waters and effluents and may be used in clean-up processes. Microbial associations were enriched for and adapted to grow in nutrient solutions containing various concentrations of different metals. As immobilised cells are known to be more stable and more efficient in metal uptake than are corresponding planktonic or free-living cells the attachment of the microbial associations was investigated using a model stream and it was found that biofilm development was better on rough surfaces such as ground glass and polystyrene than on smooth surfaces such as unetched glass plates and glass beads. When comparing metal uptake by planktonic and attached microorganisms, attached populations were found to have a greater metal-uptake capacity. The uptake of individual metals from various metal combinations was tested with various proportions of pregrown metal-adapted microbial populations as inoculum and it was found that a particular metal was taken up more readily by microbial associations which had previously been exposed to that metal. Lead (Pb2+) appeared to be taken up more readily than copper (Cu2+) or cadmium (Cd2+) while Cd2+ was more actively removed than Cu2+ from solution. pH also affected metal uptake and the optimum range for Cu2+ uptake by the Cu2+ -adapted microbial association was found to be between 5.8 and 7.0. Dead microbial biomass was investigated and found to have efficient metal uptake capacity. Living mycelium from an isolated Aspergillus species showed poor uptake of Cu2+ initially, but when this fungus was pregrown and subsequently killed by moist heat treatment the non-living mycelium was efficient in removal of Pb2+ and Cu2+ ions. The optimum mycelial biomass concentration for metal uptake was also determined. The mechanism of metal uptake by this Aspergillus species was determined, using electron microscopy and EDX techniques, to be metabolism-independent biosorption onto the hyphal surface. Thus the microbial associations and fungal cultures used in this study were shown to have the potential for use in the removal of heavy metals from polluted waters.