Sulfur isotopes of organic matter preserved in 3.45-billion-year-old stromatolites reveal microbial metabolism
Author(s)Bontognali, Tomaso R. R.; Sessions, Alex L.; Allwood, Abigail C.; Fischer, Woodward W.; Grotzinger, John P.; Summons, Roger Everett; Eiler, John M.; ... Show more Show less
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The 3.45-billion-year-old Strelley Pool Formation of Western Australia preserves stromatolites that are considered among the oldest evidence for life on Earth. In places of exceptional preservation, these stromatolites contain laminae rich in organic carbon, interpreted as the fossil remains of ancient microbial mats. To better understand the biogeochemistry of these rocks, we performed microscale in situ sulfur isotope measurements of the preserved organic sulfur, including both Δ33S and 𝛿 [superscript 34]S[subscript CDT]. This approach allows us to tie physiological inference from isotope ratios directly to fossil biomass, providing a means to understand sulfur metabolism that is complimentary to, and independent from, inorganic proxies (e.g., pyrite). Δ33S values of the kerogen reveal mass-anomalous fractionations expected of the Archean sulfur cycle, whereas 𝛿 [superscript 34]S[subscript CDT] values show large fractionations at very small spatial scales, including values below -15‰. We interpret these isotopic patterns as recording the process of sulfurization of organic matter by H2S in heterogeneous mat pore-waters influenced by respiratory S metabolism. Positive Δ33S anomalies suggest that disproportionation of elemental sulfur would have been a prominent microbial process in these communities.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
National Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
Bontognali, T. R. R., A. L. Sessions, A. C. Allwood, et al. 2012From the Cover: Sulfur Isotopes of Organic Matter Preserved in 3.45-billion-year-old Stromatolites Reveal Microbial Metabolism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(38): 15146–15151.
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