Iron (Fe)‐oxidizing bacteria have the potential to produce morphologically unique structures that may be used as biosignatures in geological deposits. One particular example is Mariprofundus ferrooxydans, which produces extracellular twisted ribbon‐like stalks consisting of ferrihydrite, co‐located with organic and inorganic elements. It is currently thought that M. ferrooxydans excrete and co‐precipitate polysaccharides and Fe simultaneously; however, the cellular production of these polysaccharides has yet to be confirmed. Here, we report on a time‐series study that used scanning transmission X‐ray microscopy and C 1s and Ca 2p near‐edge X‐ray adsorption fine structure spectroscopy to investigate production of polysaccharides over the growth cycle of M. ferrooxydans. The production and morphology of twisted iron stalks were consistent with previous observations, but unexpectedly, in the log phase, the carbon content of the stalks was extremely low. It was not until stationary growth phase that a significant component of carbon was detected on the stalks. During the log phase, low levels of carbon, only detectable when the stalks were thin, suggested that M. ferrooxydans produce an extracellular polysaccharide template onto which the Fe precipitates. By stationary phase, the increased carbon association with the stalks was a result of adsorption of organic compounds that were released during osmotic shock post‐stalk production. In the environment, elevated concentrations of DOC could adsorb onto the Fe stalks as well as a number of other elements, for example, Si, P, Ca, which, by preventing chemical interactions between the Fe nanoparticles, will prevent structural deformation during recrystallization and preserve the structure of these filaments in the rock record.
The Loihi hydrothermal plume provides an opportunity to investigate iron (Fe) oxidation and microbial processes in a system that is truly Fe dominated and distinct from mid-ocean ridge spreading centers. The lack of hydrogen sulfide within the Loihi hydrothermal fluids and the presence of an oxygen minimum zone at this submarine volcano’s summit, results in a prolonged presence of reduced Fe within the dispersing non-buoyant plume. In this study, we have investigated the potential for microbial carbon fixation within the Loihi plume. We sampled for both particulate and dissolved organic carbon in hydrothermal fluids, microbial mats growing around vents, and the dispersing plume, and carried out stable carbon isotope analysis on the particulate fraction. The δ13C values of the microbial mats ranged from −23‰ to −28‰, and are distinct from those of deep-ocean particulate organic carbon (POC). The mats and hydrothermal fluids were also elevated in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) compared to background seawater. Within the hydrothermal plume, DOC and POC concentrations were elevated and the isotopic composition of POC within the plume suggests mixing between background seawater POC and a 13C-depleted hydrothermal component. The combination of both DOC and POC increasing in the dispersing plume that cannot solely be the result of entrainment and DOC adsorption, provides strong evidence for in-situ microbial productivity by chemolithoautotrophs, including a likelihood for iron-oxidizing microorganisms.