Table_1_Metabolomic Analysis Reveals Contributions of Citric and Citramalic Acids to Rare Earth Bioleaching by a Paecilomyces Fungus.XLSX

Conventional methods for extracting rare earth elements from monazite ore require high energy inputs and produce environmentally damaging waste streams. Bioleaching offers a potentially more environmentally friendly alternative extraction process. In order to better understand bioleaching mechanisms, we conducted an exo-metabolomic analysis of a previously isolated rare earth bioleaching fungus from the genus Paecilomyces (GenBank accession numbers KM874779 and KM 874781) to identify contributions of compounds exuded by this fungus to bioleaching activity. Exuded compounds were compared under two growth conditions: growth with monazite ore as the only phosphate source, and growth with a soluble phosphate source (K2HPO4) added. Overall metabolite profiling, in combination with glucose consumption and biomass accumulation data, reflected a lag in growth when this organism was grown with only monazite. We analyzed the relationships between metabolite concentrations, rare earth solubilization, and growth conditions, and identified several metabolites potentially associated with bioleaching. Further investigation using laboratory prepared solutions of 17 of these metabolites indicated statistically significant leaching contributions from both citric and citramalic acids. These contributions (16.4 and 15.0 mg/L total rare earths solubilized) accounted for a portion, but not all, of the leaching achieved with direct bioleaching (42 ± 15 mg/L final rare earth concentration). Additionally, citramalic acid released significantly less of the radioactive element thorium than did citric acid (0.25 ± 0.01 mg/L compared to 1.18 ± 0.01 mg/L), suggesting that citramalic acid may have preferable leaching properties for a monazite bioleaching process.