The Sulfur Cycle on the Early Earth: Implications for the Search of Life on Europa and Elsewhere

  • Julian Chela-FloresEmail author
  • Vinod Chandra Tewari
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 18)


The search for life in the universe, especially on the Jovian satellite Europa, could benefit from our knowledge of the bacterial processing of sulfur on the early Earth. We know that sulfate respiring bacteria reduce sulfur and produce large fractionation between its isotopes, especially 32S and 34S. The presence of sulfur patches on the Europan surface, as revealed by the Galileo mission and confirmed by the New Horizons, may have some astrobiological implications. In principle, they could be related to sulfate-reducing bacteria and sulfur disproportionation on the ocean seafloor and its subsurface. The presence of pyrite in the oncolitic and stromatolitic laminae recorded from several Precambrian formations of the world reveal pyrite biomineralization in highly reducing conditions in the Archean and Proterozoic. A review of geological and biogeochemical data from the Precambrian demonstrates that both pyrite and evaporite formed biologically by dissimilatory sulfate reduction. In the present review, we maintain that S-isotope analysis is a most valuable tool for the exploration of the Solar System. In situ analysis of the Europan surficial icy patches should be targets for the future exploration of the Jovian System by the future worldwide effort to explore the Jovian System.


Sulfur cycle Early Earth Stromatolites Europa Mars Astrobiology Galileo probe Pyrite biomineralization Sulfur isotopes 



We are grateful to the Abdus Salam International Center for Theoretical Physics ICTP, Trieste, Italy, and Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India, for this collaborative research. Vinod C. Tewari carried out research at ICTP between 2005 and 2008 as a senior associate.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical PhysicsTriesteItaly
  2. 2.Instituto de Estudios Avanzados (IDEA)CaracasRepública Bolivariana de Venezuela
  3. 3.Wadia Institute of Himalayan GeologyDehradunIndia

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