The reduction of structural Fe in smectite is mediated either abiotically, by reaction with dithionite, or biotically, by Fe-reducing bacteria. The effects of abiotic reduction on clay-surface chemistry are much better known than the effects of biotic reduction. Since bacteria are probably the principal agent for mediating redox processes in natural soils and sediments, further study is needed to ascertain the differences between biotic and abiotic reduction processes. The purpose of the present study was to compare the effects of dithionite (abiotic) and bacteria (biotic) reduction of structural Fe in smectites on the clay structure as observed by infrared spectroscopy. Three reference smectites, namely, Garfield nontronite, ferruginous smectite (SWa-1), and Upton, Wyoming, montmorillonite, were reduced to similar levels by either Shewanella oneidensis or by pH-buffered sodium dithionite. Each sample was then analyzed by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Parallel samples were reoxidized by bubbling O2 gas through the reduced suspension at room temperature prior to FTIR analysis. Redox states were quantified by chemical analysis, using 1,10-phenanthroline. The reduction level achieved by dithionite was controlled to approximate that of the bacterial reduction treatment so that valid comparisons could be made between the two treatments. Bacterial reduction was achieved by incubating the Na-saturated smectites with S. oneidensis strain MR-1 in a minimal medium including 20 mM lactate. After redox treatment, the clay was washed four times with deoxygenated 5 mM NaCl. The sample was then prepared either as a self-supporting film for OH-stretching and deformation bands or as a deposit on ZnSe windows for Si–O stretching bands and placed inside a controlled atmosphere cell also fitted with ZnSe windows. The spectra from bacteria-treated samples were compared with dithionite-treated samples having a similar Fe(II) content. The changes observed in all three spectral regions (OH stretching, M2–O–H deformation, and Si–O stretching) for bacteria-reduced smectite were similar to results obtained at a comparable level of reduction by dithionite. In general, the shift of the structural OH vibration and the Si–O vibration, and the loss of intensity of OH groups, indicate that the bonding and/or symmetry properties in the octahedral and tetrahedral sheets changes as Fe(III) reduces to Fe(II). Upon reoxidation, peak positions and intensities of the reduced smectites were largely restored to the unaltered condition with some minor exceptions. These observations are interpreted to mean that bacterial reduction of Fe modifies the crystal structures of Fe-bearing smectites, but the overall effects are modest and of about the same extent as dithionite at similar levels of reduction. No extensive changes in clay structure were observed under conditions present in our model system.

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