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Abstract

Organic biomarkers in marine sedimentary rocks hold important clues about the early history of Earth’s surface environment. The chemical relicts of carotenoids from anoxygenic sulfur bacteria are of particular interest to geoscientists because of their potential to signal episodes of marine photic-zone euxinia such as those proposed for extended periods in the Proterozoic as well as brief intervals during the Phanerozoic. It is therefore critical to constrain the environmental and physiological factors that influence carotenoid production and preservation in modern environments. Here, we present the results of coupled pigment and nucleic acid clone library analyses from planktonic and benthic samples collected from a microbially dominated meromictic lake, Fayetteville Green Lake (New York). Purple sulfur bacteria (PSB) are abundant and diverse both in the water column at the chemocline and in benthic mats below oxygenated shallow waters, with different PSB species inhabiting the two environments. Okenone (from PSB) is an abundant carotenoid in both the chemocline waters and in benthic mats. Green sulfur bacteria and their primary pigment Bchl e are also represented in and below the chemocline. However, the water column and sediments are devoid of the green sulfur bacteria carotenoid isorenieratene. The unexpected absence of isorenieratene and apparent benthic production of okenone provide strong rationale for continued exploration of the microbial ecology of biomarker production in modern euxinic environments.