The possibility that microorganisms are catalyzing the ongoing reduction of Fe(III) in the sediments of deep (20-250 m) aquifers was investigated. Acetate-oxidizing, Fe(III)-reducing bacteria were recovered from deep subsurface sediments, but only from sediments in which it appeared that Fe(III) reduction was the terminal electron-accepting process for oxidation of organic matter. The Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms were capable of reducing ferric oxides present in deep subsurface sediments. Although Fe(III) reduction in subsurface sediments is frequently regarded as an abiological reaction, the enzymatic reduction of Fe(III) by microorganisms reported here is the first mechanism of any kind actually shown to have the potential to couple the oxidation of organic matter to carbon dioxide with the reduction of Fe(III) under the environmental conditions typically found in deep aquifers. We propose that microbially catalyzed Fe(III) reduction is responsible for such late postdepositional phenomena as the formation of variegated red beds and the release of high concentrations of dissolved iron into anaerobic ground waters.

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