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The microbe–mineral environment and gypsum neogenesis in a weathered polar evaporite


Corresponding author: Charles S. Cockell. Tel.: +44 1908 652588; fax: +44 1908 848022; e-mail:


Evaporitic deposits are a globally widespread habitat for micro-organisms. The microbe–mineral environment in weathered and remobilized gypsum from exposed mid-Ordovician marine evaporite beds in the polar desert of Devon Island, Nunavut, Canadian High Arctic was examined. The gypsum is characterized by internal green zones of cyanobacterial colonization (dominated by Gloeocapsa/Aphanothece and Chroococcidiopsis spp. morphotypes) and abundant black zones, visible from the surface, that contain pigmented cyanobacteria and fungi. Bioessential elements in the gypsum are primarily provided by allochthonous material from the present-day polar desert. The disruption, uplift and rotation of the evaporite beds by the Haughton meteorite impact 39 Ma have facilitated gypsum weathering and its accessibility as a habitat. No cultured cyanobacteria, bacteria and fungi were halophilic consistent with the expectation that halophily is not required to persist in gypsum habitats. Heterotrophic bacteria from the evaporite were slightly or moderately halotolerant, as were heterotrophs isolated from soil near the gypsum outcrop showing that halotolerance is common in arctic bacteria in this location. Psychrotolerant Arthrobacter species were isolated. No psychrophilic organisms were isolated. Two Arthrobacter isolates from the evaporite were used to mediate gypsum neogenesis in the laboratory, demonstrating a potential role for microbial biomineralization processes in polar environments.

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