Molecular indicators of microbial diversity in oolitic sands of Highborne Cay, Bahamas


Corresponding author: V. P. Edgcomb. Tel.: 508 289 3734; fax: 508 457 2183; e-mail:


Microbialites (stromatolites and thrombolites) are mineralized mat structures formed via the complex interactions of diverse microbial-mat communities. At Highborne Cay, in the Bahamas, the carbonate component of these features is mostly comprised of ooids. These are small, spherical to ellipsoidal grains characterized by concentric layers of calcium carbonate and organic matter and these sand-sized particles are incorporated with the aid of extra-cellular polymeric substances (EPS), into the matrix of laminated stromatolites and clotted thrombolite mats. Here, we present a comparison of the bacterial diversity within oolitic sand samples and bacterial diversity previously reported in thrombolitic and stromatolitic mats of Highborne Cay based on analysis of clone libraries of small subunit ribosomal RNA gene fragments and lipid biomarkers. The 16S-rRNA data indicate that the overall bacterial diversity within ooids is comparable to that found within thrombolites and stromatolites of Highborne Cay, and this significant overlap in taxonomic groups suggests that ooid sands may be a source for much of the bacterial diversity found in the local microbialites. Cyanobacteria were the most diverse taxonomic group detected, followed by Alphaproteobacteria, Gammaproteobacteria, Planctomyces, Deltaproteobacteria, and several other groups also found in mat structures. The distributions of intact polar lipids, the fatty acids derived from them, and bacteriohopanepolyols provide broad general support for the bacterial diversity identified through analysis of nucleic acid clone libraries.