Weathering life after death

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Science  20 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 281-282
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6386.281-c

Tombstone encrustation is influenced by rock chemistry.


Life is tough on rock exposed to ultraviolet radiation and extreme desiccation, and food is scarce. But microbial life does get a grip, and it contributes substantially to rock weathering by harvesting minerals for metabolism. Brewer and Fierer sampled 149 gravestones from Europe and the Americas and used marker-gene and shotgun metagenomic sequencing to uncover what was living on them. Geography, climate, and rock type were the main determinants of the microbial communities. Granite-based organisms were genetically geared for acid tolerance and mobility, whereas limestone-based communities tended to live in lichen associations, fix carbon, and resist radiation. Many of the communities were symbiotic or endolithic, indicating that some recourse to food and shelter is available even on the smoothest slab.

Environ. Microbiol. 20, 958 (2018).

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