Report

A Contemporary Microbially Maintained Subglacial Ferrous "Ocean"

Science  17 Apr 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5925, pp. 397-400
DOI: 10.1126/science.1167350

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Abstract

An active microbial assemblage cycles sulfur in a sulfate-rich, ancient marine brine beneath Taylor Glacier, an outlet glacier of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, with Fe(III) serving as the terminal electron acceptor. Isotopic measurements of sulfate, water, carbonate, and ferrous iron and functional gene analyses of adenosine 5′-phosphosulfate reductase imply that a microbial consortium facilitates a catalytic sulfur cycle. These metabolic pathways result from a limited organic carbon supply because of the absence of contemporary photosynthesis, yielding a subglacial ferrous brine that is anoxic but not sulfidic. Coupled biogeochemical processes below the glacier enable subglacial microbes to grow in extended isolation, demonstrating how analogous organic-starved systems, such as Neoproterozoic oceans, accumulated Fe(II) despite the presence of an active sulfur cycle.

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