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Bridging spatially segregated redox zones with a microbial electrochemical snorkel triggers biogeochemical cycles in oil-contaminated River Tyne (UK) sediments

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Angela SherryORCiD, Obioma MEJEHA, Professor Ian Head



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Marine sediments represent an important sink for a number of anthropogenic organic contaminants, including petroleum hydrocarbons following an accidental oil spill. Degradation of these compounds largely depends on the activity of sedimentary microbial communities linked to biogeochemical cycles, in which abundant elements such as iron and sulfur are shuttled between their oxidized and reduced forms. Here we show that introduction of a small electrically conductive graphite rod (“the electrochemical snorkel”) into an oil-contaminated River Tyne (UK) sediment, so as to create an electrochemical connection between the anoxic contaminated sediment and the oxygenated overlying water, has a large impact on the rate of metabolic reactions taking place in the bulk sediment. The electrochemical snorkel accelerated sulfate reduction processes driven by organic contaminant oxidation and suppressed competitive methane-producing reactions. The application of a comprehensive suite of chemical, spectroscopic, biomolecular and thermodynamic analyses suggested that the snorkel served as a scavenger of toxic sulfide via a redox interaction with the iron cycle. Taken as a whole, the results of this work highlight a new strategy for manipulating biological processes, such as bioremediation, corrosion, and carbon sequestration, through the manipulation of the electron flows in contaminated sediments.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Cruz Viggi C, Matturro B, Frascadore E, Insogna S, Mezzi A, Kaciulis S, Sherry A, Mejeha OK, Head IM, Vaiopoulou E, Rabaey K, Rossetti S, Aulenta F

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Water Research

Year: 2017

Volume: 127

Pages: 11-21

Print publication date: 15/12/2017

Online publication date: 03/10/2017

Acceptance date: 01/10/2017

Date deposited: 13/10/2017

ISSN (print): 0043-1354

ISSN (electronic): 1879-2448

Publisher: Elsevier


DOI: 10.1016/j.watres.2017.10.002


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Funder referenceFunder name
European Commission within the Seventh 677 Framework Programme under Grant Agreement No. 312139