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Processes in Microbial Ecology$
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David L. Kirchman

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199586936

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586936.001.0001

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Introduction to geomicrobiology

Introduction to geomicrobiology

(p.237) Chapter 13 Introduction to geomicrobiology
Processes in Microbial Ecology

David L. Kirchman

Oxford University Press

Geomicrobiology, the marriage of geology and microbiology, is about the impact of microbes on subsurface environments in terrestrial systems or sediments. A distinguishing feature of geomicrobiology is the long time scale. Even the slow growth and low activity of microbes in subsurface environments have big effects when added up over millennia. After reviewing the basics of bacteria–surface interactions, this chapter discusses biomineralization, which is the microbially mediated formation of solid minerals from soluble ions. The role of microbes can vary from merely providing passive surfaces for mineral formation to active control of the entire precipitation process. The formation of carbonate-containing minerals by coccolithophorids and other marine organisms is especially important because of the role of these minerals in the carbon cycle. Iron minerals can be formed by chemolithoautotrophic bacteria, which gain a small amount of energy from Fe (II) oxidation. Similarly, manganese-rich minerals are formed during Mn(II) oxidation, although how this reaction benefits microbes is unclear. These minerals and others give geologists and geomicrobiologists clues about early life on earth. In addition to forming minerals, microbes help to dissolve them, a process called weathering. They contribute to weathering and mineral dissolution through several mechanisms: production of protons (acidity) or hydroxides that dissolve minerals; production of ligands which chelate metals in minerals and thereby break up the solid phase; and direct reduction of mineral-bound metals to more soluble forms. The chapter ends with some comments about the role of microbes in degrading oil and other fossil fuels.

Keywords:   siderophores, DLVO theory, stromatolites, banded iron formation, manganese nodules, endolitic algae, Deepwater Horizon, oil spill

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