Reevaluation of colorimetric iron determination methods commonly used in geomicrobiology

Institute of Groundwater Ecology, Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, D-85764 Neuherberg, Germany.
Journal of microbiological methods (Impact Factor: 2.03). 02/2012; 89(1):41-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.mimet.2012.01.021
Source: PubMed


The ferrozine and phenanthroline colorimetric assays are commonly applied for the determination of ferrous and total iron concentrations in geomicrobiological studies. However, accuracy of both methods depends on slight changes in their protocols, on the investigated iron species, and on geochemical variations in sample conditions. Therefore, we tested the performance of both methods using Fe(II)((aq)), Fe(III)((aq)), mixed valence solutions, synthetic goethite, ferrihydrite, and pyrite, as well as microbially-formed magnetite and a mixture of goethite and magnetite. The results were compared to concentrations determined with aqua regia dissolution and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES). Iron dissolution prior to the photometric assays included dissolution in 1M or 6M HCl, at 21 or 60°C, and oxic or anoxic conditions. Results indicated a good reproducibility of quantitative total iron determinations by the ferrozine and phenanthroline assays for easily soluble iron forms such as Fe(II)((aq)), Fe(III)((aq)), mixed valence solutions, and ferrihydrite. The ferrozine test underestimated total iron contents of some of these samples after dissolution in 1M HCl by 10 to 13%, whereas phenanthroline matched the results determined by ICP-AES with a deviation of 5%. Total iron concentrations after dissolution in 1M HCl of highly crystalline oxides such as magnetite, a mixture of goethite and magnetite, and goethite were underestimated by up to 95% with both methods. When dissolving these minerals in 6M HCl at 60°C, the ferrozine method was more reliable for total iron content with an accuracy of ±5%, related to values determined with ICP-AES. Phenanthroline was more reliable for the determination of total pyritic iron as well as ferrous iron after incubation in 1M HCl at 21°C in the Fe(II)((aq)) sample with a recovery of 98%. Low ferrous iron concentrations of less than 0.5mM were overestimated in a Fe(III) background by up to 150% by both methods. Heating of mineral samples in 6M HCl increased their solubility and susceptibility for both photometric assays which is a need for total iron determination of highly crystalline minerals. However, heating also rendered a subsequent reliable determination of ferrous iron impossible due to fast abiotic oxidation. Due to the low solubility of highly crystalline samples, the determination of total iron is solely possible after dissolution in 6M HCl at 60°C which on the other hand makes determination of ferrous iron impossible. The recommended procedure for ferrous iron determination is therefore incubation at 21°C in 6M HCl, centrifugation, and subsequent measurement of ferrous iron in the supernatant. The different procedures were tested during growth of G. sulfurreducens on synthetic ferrihydrite. Here, the phenanthroline test was more accurate compared to the ferrozine test. However, the latter provided easy handling and seemed preferable for larger amounts of samples.

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