Research Topic

Biogeochemistry, Medical and Environmental Mineralogy of Contaminants: From Atomic- to Micro-Scale Processes

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Metals, minerals and the biosphere are linked in a complex interplay: the inorganic components of a system may be beneficial or toxic to biological life, starting from microorganisms and up to humans. Alternatively, microbial and eukaryotic cells can induce mineral weathering and phase transformations that ...

Metals, minerals and the biosphere are linked in a complex interplay: the inorganic components of a system may be beneficial or toxic to biological life, starting from microorganisms and up to humans. Alternatively, microbial and eukaryotic cells can induce mineral weathering and phase transformations that are important processes on the Earth’s surface or within the target organism itself. For instance, industrial and mining activities can release high amounts of metals and metalloids in the effluents. These effluents are characterized by high microbial diversity and activity, which could affect the fate and behavior of contaminants through processes such as reduction, biomineralization, biosorption, methylation, and volatilization. Furthermore, these activities can produce internationally-recognized hazardous minerals that can cause several mineral-related human diseases. Relatively recent scientific evidences have suggested that the human body is capable of chemical “deactivation” or physical confinement of hazardous mineral particles, although the exact mechanisms are just partially determined.

The biogeochemical transformation of contaminants by microbial and eukaryotic cells is governed by mechanistic processes ranging from the nano scale to the micro-scale. The understanding of these processes is important for a plethora of reasons. First, we can develop a better understanding of how the human body is affected by these interactions, but also how to transform up-taken exogenous minerals and metals in new phases. This can propel new ideas for treatment of mineral-related diseases at both the cellular and systemic levels. Second, we can design tailored strategies for contaminant detoxification and remediation in the environment that could be applied in field or industrial settings. This relies on discerning how microbial diversity and activity affect the fate of toxic metals/metalloids/minerals through processes such as respiratory redox reactions and biomineralization. Lastly, potentially useful microbial interactions and mechanisms can be engineered for fabricating products (e.g., metallic nanoparticles, secondary raw materials, etc.) that can be reused within the circular economy framework in different industrial fields. The study of these diverse and complex interactions thus represent a broad interdisciplinary field positioned between geology, microbiology, mineralogy, biogeochemistry, nanotechnology, and medicine. Thus, the aim of this Research Topic is to explore the similarities between hazardous mineral transformations mediated by microorganisms and by the human body, especially with recent advances in the use of biogeochemistry, medical and environmental mineralogy, microscopy, and spectroscopy to study bioreactions involving metals/minerals and their transformations.

We welcome authors to submit both original research and review article on the study and understanding of the complex relationships occurring between natural or anthropogenic environments, the biosphere, and different minerals. Particular attention will be dedicated, but not limited, to:

- The synthesis and function of minerals in the environment or in living organisms;
- Minerals with an active role in human disease development;
- The role of microbes on the speciation and behavior of inorganic contaminants;
- Mineral weathering and phase transformations induced by microorganisms at the biosphere-geosphere interface; and
- Transformation of contaminants into materials with high commercial and technological value.


Keywords: biogeochemical transformation, medical mineralogy, speciation, mineral weathering, human disease


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