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2008 Annual Science Report

University of Wisconsin Reporting  |  JUL 2007 – JUN 2008

Iron Isotope Biosignatures: Laboratory Studies and Modern Environments

Project Summary

This project seeks to define the biotic and abiotic mechanisms of Fe isotope fractionation in modern sedimentary environments and laboratory model systems. Such information is required to evaluate the potential role of Fe isotopes in understanding the evolution of microbial redox metabolism on the early Earth, and to evaluate their ability to serve as biosignatures of microbial metabolism on other planets (e.g. Mars).

4 Institutions
3 Teams
0 Publications
0 Field Sites
Field Sites

Project Progress

Building upon earlier experimental work in relatively simple systems, we have been exploring Fe isotope fractionations in laboratory experiments using pure cultures and parallel abiologic control experiments that are analogs to ancient seawater, specifically the high levels of dissolved silica that must have existed in the Archean. Silica was chosen as the first component to explore because chert is a major component of ancient Fe-rich rocks such as banded iron formations (BIFs). We find that abiologic exchange of Fe isotopes may occur in presence of dissolved silica. Moreover, production of Fe(II) by dissimilatory iron reduction (DIR) is not inhibited by the presence of dissolved silica, and such Fe(II) has low 56Fe/54Fe ratios, indicating that Fe-reducing bacteria could have produced the low-56Fe/54Fe ratios seen Archean marine sedimentary rocks.

We determined iron inventories and their isotopic compositions in a modern field site (Keswick Reservoir, northern California, USA) where rapid deposition of amorphous iron oxides and organic carbon support a DIR microbial community that has produced large quantities of low-56Fe/54Fe aqueous Fe(II). Parallel laboratory incubation experiments using the same reservoir sediment and microbial community revealed similar linkages between DIR and Fe isotope fractionation. The very high rates of DIR and low rates of bacterial sulfate reduction (BSR), make the Keswick Reservoir site an excellent analog site for BIF deposition in the ancient earth relative to modern marine sediments. These results provide the first evidence for production of low-56Fe/54Fe ratios by DIR in a modern environment whose iron pathways were similar to those that existed on the ancient earth, providing strong support for using iron isotopes to trace the interplay of microbial metabolisms over Earth’s history.

    Eric Roden Eric Roden
    Project Investigator
    Brian Beard Brian Beard
    Clark Johnson Clark Johnson
    Huifang Xu Huifang Xu
    George Tangalos
    Graduate Student

    Objective 4.1
    Earth's early biosphere

    Objective 6.1
    Environmental changes and the cycling of elements by the biota, communities, and ecosystems

    Objective 7.1
    Biosignatures to be sought in Solar System materials