The Interlayer Regions of Sheet Silicates as a Favorable Habitat for Endolithic Microorganisms

Kapitulčinová, Dana; Cockell, Charles S.; Patel, Manish R. and Ragnarsdóttir, Kristín Vala (2015). The Interlayer Regions of Sheet Silicates as a Favorable Habitat for Endolithic Microorganisms. Geomicrobiology Journal, 32(6) pp. 530–537.



Dark-colored rocks that attenuate photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) are generally thought to be poor substrates for endolithic colonization. In this study we show that the internal space of the common dark-colored mica mineral, biotite, is a favorable microhabitat for the growth of filamentous cyanobacteria. Laboratory incubation experiments demonstrated that filamentous cyanobacteria with a cell diameter of ≤3 μm were able to colonize biotite interlayers. Light transmittance measurements on solid biotite sheets showed that PAR (400–690 nm) transmission is sufficient to allow for cyanobacterial growth in the interlayer regions of the mineral. Of note is that damaging UV radiation is attenuated by more than one order of magnitude at the corresponding depth, most likely by the iron contained within the mineral, showing that the interlayer region represents a UV protected microhabitat with respect to the mineral surface. The interlayer region is therefore a favorable environment for small cells that cannot rely only on UV screening compounds. These results show that biotite, and by extension other layered silicate minerals, are a hitherto unrecognized habitat suitable for endolithic microorganisms with potential implications in research fields such as astrobiology.

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