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Sulphur-eating bacteria limit acid run-off and CO2

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Using two beamlines at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) and a third at the Advanced Light Source (ALS), researchers from McMaster University have found that two species of bacteria isolated from a mine tailings pond in northern Ontario actually work together to limit the amount of acid produced by sharing the sulphur in the tailings as an energy source.

The discovery, made by Ph.D. student Kelsey Norlund and her advisor Lesley Warren with the help of veteran synchrotron researcher Adam Hitchcock, not only demonstrates how bacteria can modify their environment, but could also lead to a rethink of the amount of atmospheric carbon produced by acid weathering that is included in global models by as much as 26 million tonnes.

“Before this work, our understanding of how this system operates was based largely on chemical models of water quality in these tailings ponds; things like the sulphur chemistry and pH,” explains Warren. “Everyone knew that bacteria were there and playing a role, but that role was not well described beyond broad brushstrokes.”
 
 

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