Characterization of metal-cyanobacteria sorption reactions: a combined macroscopic and infrared spectroscopic investigation

Nathan Yee, Liane G. Benning, Vernon R. Phoenix, F. Grant Ferris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

356 Citations (Scopus)


In this study, we conducted synchrotron radiation Fourier transform infrared (IR) spectroscopy, potentiometric titration, and metal sorption experiments to characterize metal-cyanobacteria sorption reactions. Infrared spectra were collected with samples in solution for intact cyanobacterial filaments and separated exopolymeric sheath material to examine the deprotonation reactions of cell surface functional groups. The infrared spectra of intact cells sequentially titrated from pH 3.2 to 6.5 display an increase in peak intensity and area at 1400 cm-1 corresponding to vibrational COO- frequencies from the formation of deprotonated carboxyl surface sites. Similarly, bulk acid-base titration of cyanobacterial filaments and sheath material indicates that the concentration of proton-active surface sites is higher on the cell wall compared to the overlying sheath. A three-site model provides an excellent fit to the titration curves of both intact cells and sheath material with corresponding pKa values of 4.7 ± 0.4, 6.6 ± 0.2, 9.2 ± 0.3 and 4.8 ± 0.3, 6.5 ± 0.1, 8.7 ± 0.2, respectively. Finally, Cu2+, Cd2+, and Pb2+ sorption experiments were conducted as a function of pH, and a site-specific surface complexation model was used to describe the metal sorption data. The modeling indicates that metal ions are partitioned between the exopolymer sheath and cell wall and that the carboxyl groups on the cyanobacterial cell wall are the dominant sink for metals at near neutral pH. These results demonstrate that the cyanobacterial surfaces are complex structures which contain distinct surface layers, each with unique molecular functional groups and metal binding properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)775-782
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number3
Early online date13 Dec 2003
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • infrared spectroscopy
  • cyanobacterial filaments
  • sorption experiments


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