It’s actually microbes that move mountains

The interaction between minerals and microbes is going on everywhere.

Chinese scientists outline how humanity cann harness the interaction between minerals and microbes

Minerals are the fundamental components of Earth, Microbes occupy the majority of life. The studies of their interdependencies have blossomed in the last 2 decades, because such interactions drive major geological events and substantially determine the habitability of the Earth. A research team led by Dr. Hailiang Dong from China University of Geosciences (Beijing) proposes research opportunities and challenges in this field.

The study was published in the National Science Review from Oxford University Press under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Minerals and microbes mutually interact across all spatial and temporal scales. While many minerals offer protection and supply nutrients/energy to support microbial growth and metabolism, others may release bio-toxic substances and produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) to limit and even to kill microorganisms.

In return, microbes actively dissolve, precipitate, and transform minerals through metabolism, which may produce special biosignatures in geological record.

Mineral-microbe interactions have many biotechnological applications including bioleaching of precious metals and manufacturing of mineral fertilizers, remediation of heavy metal and organic pollutants, biosynthesis of novel materials and CO2 sequestration.

A bacterium adheres to a molybdenite (MoS2) surface to uptake the trace elements from the mineral structure its cell synthesis. Surce: Science China Press

The authors outline questions for future research:

* First, the roles of minerals in supporting microbial ecology are only qualitatively recognized at present. Traditional culture media do not consider minerals as important nutrients and energy, which may be one of the reasons for a low success rate of obtaining pure cultures. Mineral-based culture media should recover more microbial resources.

* Second, it is challenging to distinguish biogenic minerals from abiogenic ones. A syngenetic assemblage of minerals that combine morphological, structural/textural, and geochemical evidence is more meaningful to search for the biological footprints in geological record and on other planets.

* Third, it is imperative to link laboratory mechanistic investigations to field observations. Through an iterative approach mineral-microbe interactions may be inferred through time.

* Fourth, manipulation of mineral-microbe interactions can benefit the humankind, such as CO2 sequestration and mitigation of the global warming effect, resource recovery, environmental protection, and manufacturing of novel materials.

A critical review of mineral-microbe interaction and coevolution: mechanisms and applications

Microbe/mineral interface (MMI)

A special topic in this field is microbe/mineral interface (MMI) (minerals and the microbes on them). USC Earth Sciences Geobiology study how microbes attach and how and when they alter the minerals while attached. The tools used for these studies include molecular biology, microbial physiology, geochemistry, electrochemistry, and imaging of many different kinds.

The British Geological Survey has published a study “Mineral-microbe interaction role in concentration and fractionation of rare earth elements (MM-FREE)“.

(22.09.2022, USA: 09.22.2022)