Authigenic Metastable Iron Sulfide Minerals Preserve Microbial Organic Carbon in Anoxic Environments

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Chemical Geology



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The burial of organic carbon (OC) in sedimentary environments promotes long-term carbon sequestration, which allows the release of oxygen in the atmosphere. Organo-mineral interactions that form between terrigenous minerals and OC during transport to and deposition on the seabed enhance OC preservation. Here, we propose an authigenic mechanism for the coupled preservation of labile OC and metastable iron sulfide minerals under anoxic conditions. Sulfate-reducing microorganisms (SRM) are ubiquitous in anoxic environments and produce the majority of free sulfide in marine sediments, leading to the formation of iron sulfide minerals in situ. Using high spatial resolution microscopy, spectroscopy and spectro-microscopy, we show that iron sulfide biominerals precipitated in the presence of SRM incorporate and adsorb organic molecules, leading to the formation of stable organo-mineral aggregates that could persist for years in anoxic environments. OC/iron sulfide assemblages consist of the metastable iron sulfide mineral phases mackinawite and/or greigite, along with labile organic compounds derived from microbial biomass or from organic molecules released extracellularly by SRM. Together these results underscore the role that a major group of anoxic microbes play in OC preservation and illustrate the value of the resulting authigenic metastable iron sulfide minerals mackinawite and greigite in protecting labile organic molecules from degradation over time.


Biomineralization; Iron sulfide minerals; Iron; Sulfur; Organic carbon; Sulfate-reducing microorganisms


Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology | Life Sciences | Molecular Biology



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