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Microbial chemolithotrophy mediates oxidative weathering of granitic bedrock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Stephanie A. Napieralski
  • Heather L. Buss
  • Susan L. Brantley
  • Seungyeol Lee
  • Huifang Xu
  • Eric E. Roden
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26394-26401
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
Early online date16 Dec 2019
DateAccepted/In press - 21 Nov 2019
DateE-pub ahead of print - 16 Dec 2019
DatePublished (current) - 26 Dec 2019


The flux of solutes from the chemical weathering of the continental crust supplies a steady supply of essential nutrients necessary for the maintenance of Earth's biosphere. Promotion of weathering by microorganisms is a well-documented phenomenon and is most often attributed to heterotrophic microbial metabolism for the purposes of nutrient acquisition. Here we demonstrate the role of chemolithotrophic ferrous iron [Fe(II)]-oxidizing bacteria in biogeochemical weathering of subsurface Fe(II)-silicate minerals at the Luquillo Critical Zone Observatory in Puerto Rico. Under chemolithotrophic growth conditions, mineral-derived Fe(II) in the Rio Blanco Quartz Diorite served as the primary energy source for microbial growth. An enrichment in homologs to gene clusters involved in extracellular electron transfer was associated with dramatically accelerated rates of mineral oxidation and ATP generation relative to sterile diorite suspensions. Transmission electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectroscopy revealed the accumulation of nanoparticulate Fe-oxyhydroxides on mineral surfaces only under biotic conditions. Microbially-oxidized quartz diorite showed greater susceptibility to proton promoted dissolution, which has important implications for weathering reactions in situ. Collectively our results suggest that chemolithotrophic Fe(II)-oxidizing bacteria are likely contributors in the transformation of rock to regolith.

    Research areas

  • Chemolithotrophy, Critical Zone, Weathering



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