Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Published: August 1, 2012
C-DEBI Contribution Number: 222


Quantification of global biogeochemical cycles requires knowledge of the rates at which microorganisms catalyze chemical reactions. In order for models that describe these processes to capture global patterns of change, the underlying formulations in them must account for biogeochemical transformations over seasonal and millennial time scales in environments characterized by different energy levels. Building on existing models, a new thermodynamic limiting function is introduced. With only one adjustable parameter, this function that can be used to model microbial metabolism throughout the range of conditions in which organisms are known to be active. The formulation is based on a comparison of the amount of energy available from any redox reaction to the energy required to maintain a membrane potential, a proxy for the minimum amount of energy required by an active microorganism. This function does not require species- or metabolism-specific parameters, and can be used to model metabolisms that capture any amount of energy. The utility of this new thermodynamic rate limiting term is illustrated by applying it to three low-energy processes: fermentation, methanogenesis and sulfate reduction. The model predicts that the rate of fermentation will be reduced by half once the Gibbs energy of the catalyzed reaction reaches −12 kJ (mol e)−1, and then slowing exponentially until the energy yield approaches zero. Similarly, the new model predicts that the low energy yield of methanogenesis, −4 to −0.5 kJ (mol e)−1, for a partial pressure of H2 between 11 and 0.6 Pa decreases the reaction rate by 95–99%. Finally, the new function’s utility is illustrated through its ability to accurately model sulfate concentration data in an anoxic marine sediment.