Chemolithoautotropic Diazotrophy Dominates the Nitrogen Fixation Process in Mine Tailings

Xiaoxu Sun, Tianle Kong, Max M. Häggblom, Max Kolton, Fangbai Li, Yiran Dong, Yuqing Huang, Baoqin Li, Weimin Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Nutrient deficiency, especially bio-available nitrogen deficiency, often impedes the bioremediation efforts of mining generated tailings. Biological nitrogen fixation is a critical process necessary for the initial nitrogen buildup in tailings. Current knowledge regarding the diazotrophs that inhabit tailings is still in its infancy. Therefore, in this study, a comprehensive investigation combining geochemical characterization, sequence analyses, molecular techniques, and activity measurements was conducted to characterize the diazotrophic community residing in tailing environments. Significant differences between tailings and their adjacent soils in prokaryotic and diazotrophic communities were detected. Meanwhile, strong and significant correlations between the absolute abundance of the nitrogen fixation (nifH), carbon fixation (cbbL), sulfur oxidation (soxB), and arsenite oxidation (aioA) genes were observed in the tailings but not in the soils. The reconstructed nif-containing metagenome-assembled genomes (MAGs) suggest that the carbon fixation and sulfur oxidation pathways were important for potential diazotrophs inhabiting the tailings. Activity measurements further confirmed that diazotrophs inhabiting tailings preferentially use inorganic electron donors (e.g., elemental sulfur) compared to organic electron donors (e.g., sucrose), while diazotrophs inhabiting soils preferred organic carbon sources. Collectively, these findings suggest that chemolithoautotrophic diazotrophs may play essential roles in acquiring nutrients and facilitating ecological succession in tailings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6082-6093
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 19 May 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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