Composition and implications of diverse lipids in New Zealand Geothermal sinters


Corresponding author: R. D. Pancost. Tel.: +44 (0)117 928 9178; fax: +44 (0)117 925 1295; e-mail:


Microbial adaptations associated with extreme growth environments, including high temperatures and low pH, are of interest to astrobiologists and origin of life researchers. As part of a survey of microbial lipids present in terrestrial geothermal settings, we examined four silica sinters associated with three different hot spring areas of the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ), New Zealand. Dominant bacterial lipids include free fatty acids, 1,2-diacylglycerophospholipids, 1,2-di-O-alkylglycerols, 1-O-alkylglycerols, wax esters, alkanols, alkan-1,2-diols and various hopanoids, whereas dominant archaeal lipids include both archaeol and glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers. Although many of these compounds occur in other settings, in the TVZ sinters their distributions (with high abundances of β-OH fatty acids and high-molecular-weight (> C18) fatty acyl components) and carbon isotopic compositions (ranging from −40 to +4, with up to 25 variability in a single sample) are unusual. In addition, we have identified a range of unusual compounds, including novel macrocyclic diethers and hopanoids. The distributions of these compounds differ among the study sites, suggesting that, where preserved in ancient sinters, they could serve as an important tool in studying past hydrothermal environments.