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Alyssa Jean Lehsau Findlay

Planktonic marine iron oxidizers drive iron mineralization under low-oxygen conditions

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  • E. K. Field, University of Delaware
  • ,
  • S. Kato, University of Delaware
  • ,
  • A. J. Findlay
  • D. J. MacDonald, University of Delaware
  • ,
  • B. K. Chiu, University of Delaware
  • ,
  • G. W. Luther, University of Delaware
  • ,
  • C. S. Chan, University of Delaware

Observations of modern microbes have led to several hypotheses on how microbes precipitated the extensive iron formations in the geologic record, but we have yet to resolve the exact microbial contributions. An initial hypothesis was that cyanobacteria produced oxygen which oxidized iron abiotically; however, in modern environments such as microbial mats, where Fe(II) and O2 coexist, we commonly find microaerophilic chemolithotrophic iron-oxidizing bacteria producing Fe(III) oxyhydroxides. This suggests that such iron oxidizers could have inhabited niches in ancient coastal oceans where Fe(II) and O2 coexisted, and therefore contributed to banded iron formations (BIFs) and other ferruginous deposits. However, there is currently little evidence for planktonic marine iron oxidizers in modern analogs. Here, we demonstrate successful cultivation of planktonic microaerophilic iron-oxidizing Zetaproteobacteria from the Chesapeake Bay during seasonal stratification. Iron oxidizers were associated with low oxygen concentrations and active iron redox cycling in the oxic-anoxic transition zone (<3 μm O2 , <0.2 μm H2 S). While cyanobacteria were also detected in this transition zone, oxygen concentrations were too low to support significant rates of abiotic iron oxidation. Cyanobacteria may be providing oxygen for microaerophilic iron oxidation through a symbiotic relationship; at high Fe(II) levels, cyanobacteria would gain protection against Fe(II) toxicity. A Zetaproteobacteria isolate from this site oxidized iron at rates sufficient to account for deposition of geologic iron formations. In sum, our results suggest that once oxygenic photosynthesis evolved, microaerophilic chemolithotrophic iron oxidizers were likely important drivers of iron mineralization in ancient oceans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-508
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

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