The Role of Sulfate Reduction in Stromatolites and Microbial Mats: Ancient and Modern Perspectives

  • Jesse G. DillonEmail author
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 18)


Sulfate reduction is an evolutionarily ancient process and sulfate-reducing microorganisms were likely key members of Precambrian stromatolite communities, as they are in modern photosynthetic microbial mats. Some of the highest rates of sulfate reduction ever measured have been observed in hypersaline microbial mats, supporting the view that sulfate respiration is a dominant carbon mineralization process in these communities. Sulfate consumption and the alkalinity that results from carbon utilization have also been linked to carbonate precipitation in lithified mats. Diverse groups of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), primarily members of the Deltaproteobacteria, have been found to live in stratified zones in microbial mats, some localized near the surface despite high levels of oxygenic photosynthesis by cyanobacteria. Culture studies have shown that some SRB can switch to aerobic metabolism under microaerophilic conditions; however, it is not known how SRB tolerate the very high levels found in situ. Possible strategies involve aggregation and diel migration. Recent application of technologies such as nanometer-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS) and metagenomics to mats have enabled ultra fine-scale mapping of sulfate reduction activity and have broadened our understanding of how sulfur metabolism fits into the broader picture of microbial diversity and functionality.


Microbial mat Hypersaline Sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) Deltaproteobacteria Desulfonema–Desulfosarcina–Desulfococcus (Dn–Ds–Dc) group Microcoleus Cyanobacteria Oxycline Lithification Extracellular polymeric substances (EPSs) Aragonite Dolomite Guerrero Negro Solar Lake Highborne Cay 16S rRNA Dissimilatory sulfite reductase (dsrAB) CARD-FISH nanoSIMS 



The author acknowledges the support and mentorship of Dr. David Stahl who introduced me to the amazing world of sulfate-reducing bacteria. The author’s work in Dr Stahl’s lab, upon which some of this is based, was supported by NSF-IGERT grant (DGE-9870713), NSF grant (DEB-0213186) and NASA NAI grant (NCC2-1273). He also acknowledges the editors Dr. Vinod C. Tewari and Dr. Joseph Seckbach for their kind invitation to contribute this chapter as well as the insightful suggestions for improvement by two peer reviewers Dr. Andreas Teske and Dr. Harald Strauss.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesCalifornia State UniversityLong BeachUSA

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