Promotion and nucleation of carbonate precipitation during microbial iron reduction



Iron-bearing early diagenetic carbonate cements are common in sedimentary rocks, where they are thought to be associated with microbial iron reduction. However, little is yet known about how local environments around actively iron-reducing cells affect carbonate mineral precipitation rates and compositions. Precipitation experiments with the iron-reducing bacterium Shewanella oneidensis MR-1 were conducted to examine the potential role of cells in promoting precipitation and to explore the possible range of precipitate compositions generated in varying fluid compositions. Actively iron-reducing cells induced increased carbonate mineral saturation and nucleated precipitation on their poles. However, precipitation only occurred when calcium was present in solution, suggesting that cell surfaces lowered local ferrous iron concentrations by adsorption or intracellular iron oxide precipitation even as they locally raised pH. Resultant precipitates were a range of thermodynamically unstable calcium-rich siderites that would likely act as precursors to siderite, calcite, or even dolomite in nature. By modifying local pH, providing nucleation sites, and altering metal ion concentrations around cell surfaces, iron-reducing micro-organisms could produce a wide range of carbonate cements in natural sediments.