Episode Summary

Earth's iron deposits could have been created by anaerobic light-harvesting microbes instead of those that make oxygen!

Microbe of the episode

Microbe of the episode: Streptomyces avidinii

News discussed

Jesse's takeaways

In the ancient earth, the sun was dimmer, the world was colder, and oxygen was rare because photosynthesis had not yet evolved. Without oxygen to oxidize it, iron remained in its soluble, more accessible form, and many organisms took advantage of it for anaerobic metabolism.

But was it photosynthesis and the oxygen it created that transformed most of the planet's iron into its insoluble form, creating large iron deposits in the ground? This study explores the possibility that it was another form of light-harvesting metabolism, called photoferrotrophy, that uses light and the transformation of iron to generate energy. This hypothesis is found to be consistent with the evidence we have about what the early earth was like.

Journal Paper

Thompson KJ, Kenward PA, Bauer KW, Warchola T, Gauger T, Martinez R, Simister RL, Michiels CC, Llirós M, Reinhard CT, Kappler A, Konhauser KO, Crowe SA. 2019. Photoferrotrophy, deposition of banded iron formations, and methane production in Archean oceans. Sci Adv 5:eaav2869.

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