The Sulfur Cycle as the Gear of the “Clock of Life”: The Point of Convergence Between Geological and Genomic Data in the Cuatro Cienegas Basin

  • Valerie De Anda
  • Icoquih Zapata-Peñasco
  • Luis E. Eguiarte
  • Valeria SouzaEmail author
Part of the Cuatro Ciénegas Basin: An Endangered Hyperdiverse Oasis book series (CUCIBA)


Due to its chemical properties and several stable redox states, microbial transformations of sulfur compounds have been affecting the geochemical features of the Earth’s biosphere since the Archaean. However, despite the great importance of sulfur cycling, reconciling the geologic record with genomic data has been challenging. Here we first review current state-of-the-art evidence about the emergence of life on Earth in sulfur-rich environments, providing a conceptual framework that closely connects these two largely separated disciplines. Then, we summarize the current astonishing diversity of prokaryotes responsible for driving the sulfur cycle, suggesting that, due to their ancient origin, sulfur-associated taxa perhaps hold the greatest diversity of any group of microorganisms to metabolize a single element on Earth. Finally, because the guilds of sulfur metabolizing microbes co-occur at millimeter scales within microbial mats, we use the taxonomic and metabolic information derived from these primordial communities as ecological models to highlight sulfur as the guiding axis of these complex intersections, recapitulating a gear of the clock of life.


Bacteria Diversity Microbial mat Prokaryotes Sulfur metabolism 



This work constitutes a partial fulfillment requirement for the Ph.D. degree of Valerie De Anda at the graduate program Doctorado en Ciencias Biomédicas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México who received fellowship 356 832 from Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT). The authors acknowledge the founding of WWF-Alianza Carlos Slim, as well as support by a Sep Conacyt Project to VS and LEE 1101OL34. (aqui hablar sobre que es proyecto del azufre). The manuscript was written during a sabbatical leave of LEE and VSS in the University of Minnesota in Peter Tiffin and Michael Travisano laboratories, with support of the program PASPA- DGAPA, UNAM.

We would like to acknowledge Peter Stadler whose valuable comments greatly improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valerie De Anda
    • 1
  • Icoquih Zapata-Peñasco
    • 2
  • Luis E. Eguiarte
    • 1
  • Valeria Souza
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaInstituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoCoyoacanMexico
  2. 2.Instituto Mexicano del PetróleoMexico CityMexico

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