Microbes, tectonics, and the global carbon cycle

Featured image: Steam rising from a pool in the Aguas Termales area near the base of Rincón de la Vieja volcano in Costa Rica. Courtesy of the Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution; photo by Paul Kimberly.

Paper: Effect of tectonic processes on biosphere-geosphere feedbacks across a convergent margin
Authors: K. M. Fullerton, M. O. Schrenk, M. Yucel, E. Manini, M. Basili, T. J. Rogers, D. Fattorini, M. Di Carlo, G. d’Errico, F. Regoli, M. Nakagawa, C. Vetriani, F. Smedile, C. Ramirez, H. Miller, S. M. Morrison, J. Buongiorno, G. L. Jessen, A. D. Steen, M. Martinez, J. M. de Moor, P. H. Barry, D. Giovannelli, and K. G. Lloyd

Plate tectonics describes the workings of our planet on the gigantic scale of continents and oceans, moving graduallly over hundreds of millions of years. But the tectonic processes that slowly shape and reshape the whole surface of the Earth also directly influence the lives of some of our planet’s tiniest residents: microbes. And those microbes, in turn, may have a larger effect on Earth’s carbon cycle than previously estimated.

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Rust to the Rescue?

Featured Image: Shewanella putrefaciens CN-32 (a microbe capable of eating iron) on hematite (a rock containing iron). Image courtesy Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). Used with permission.

Paper: Organic matter mineralization in modern and ancient ferruginous sediments

Authors: André Friese, Kohen Bauer, Clemens Glombitza, Luis Ordoñez, Daniel Ariztegui Verena B. Heuer, Aurèle Vuillemin, Cynthia Henny, Sulung Nomosatryo, Rachel Simister Dirk Wagner, Satria Bijaksana, Hendrik Vogel, Martin Melles, James M. Russell, Sean A. Crowe, Jens Kallmeyer

Just as a crow may use a rock to crack a nut, certain microbes can use solid iron to crack open methane.  This consumption limits the amount of methane lost from lakes into the atmosphere, making it a crucial process in mitigating production of greenhouse gasses.  These microbes are abundant in freshwater sediments, and their specialized mechanism for cracking open methane is most likely one of the oldest metabolisms on Earth, providing a modern-day window into the past.

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To P, not to P? That is (an oversimplification of) the biogeochemical question—

Paper: Unraveling biogeochemical phosphorus dynamics in hyperarid Mars‐analogue soils using stable oxygen isotopes in phosphate

Authors: Jianxun Shen, Andrew C. Smith, Mark W. Claire, Aubrey L. Zerkle

Many geologists believe that ancient Mars, with its warmer temperatures and water-rich environment, may have been home to life. To test this hypothesis, astrobiologists must find signifiers of life that can survive the billions of years of hyperaridity experienced on the Martian surface. One such method could be identifying biotic alteration of the geochemical cycling of phosphorus, as was highly publicized during the recent discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus. Researchers have taken the first step in this search by characterizing biological phosphorus cycling in the analog environment of the Atacama Desert – an endeavor that has applied novel techniques in chemistry to provide insights about the movement of phosphorus in arid environments.

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