Mechanistic insight into biopolymer induced iron oxide mineralization through quantification of molecular bonding†
Microbial production of iron (oxyhydr)oxides on polysaccharide rich biopolymers occurs on such a vast scale that it impacts the global iron cycle and has been responsible for major biogeochemical events. Yet the physiochemical controls these biopolymers exert on iron (oxyhydr)oxide formation are poorly understood. Here we used dynamic force spectroscopy to directly probe binding between complex, model and natural microbial polysaccharides and common iron (oxyhydr)oxides. Applying nucleation theory to our results demonstrates that if there is a strong attractive interaction between biopolymers and iron (oxyhydr)oxides, the biopolymers decrease the nucleation barriers, thus promoting mineral nucleation. These results are also supported by nucleation studies and density functional theory. Spectroscopic and thermogravimetric data provide insight into the subsequent growth dynamics and show that the degree and strength of water association with the polymers can explain the influence on iron (oxyhydr)oxide transformation rates. Combined, our results provide a mechanistic basis for understanding how polymer–mineral–water interactions alter iron (oxyhydr)oxides nucleation and growth dynamics and pave the way for an improved understanding of the consequences of polymer induced mineralization in natural systems.