Large Sulfur Bacteria and the Formation of Phosphorite

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Science  21 Jan 2005:
Vol. 307, Issue 5708, pp. 416-418
DOI: 10.1126/science.1103096

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Phosphorite deposits in marine sediments are a long-term sink for an essential nutrient, phosphorus. Here we show that apatite abundance in sediments on the Namibian shelf correlates with the abundance and activity of the giant sulfur bacterium Thiomargarita namibiensis, which suggests that sulfur bacteria drive phosphogenesis. Sediments populated by Thiomargarita showed sharp peaks of pore water phosphate (≤300 micromolar) and massive phosphorite accumulations (≥50 grams of phosphorus per kilogram). Laboratory experiments revealed that under anoxic conditions, Thiomargarita released enough phosphate to account for the precipitation of hydroxyapatite observed in the environment.

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