Microbially Induced Iron Precipitation Associated with a Neutrophilic Spring at Borra Caves, Vishakhapatnam, India
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The present investigation uncovers various pieces of evidence for the possible biologically induced mineralization in iron mats associated with a pH-neutral spring in the Borra caves, Vishakhapatnam, India. Electron microscopy [scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM)] demonstrated large numbers of (i) hollow tubes (diameter ∼1 μm) resembling sheaths of the iron-oxidizing bacteria Leptothrix, (ii) thin (diameter <<1 μm) solid fibers of uncertain origin, (iii) nanoscale subspherical to irregularly shaped particles encrusting tubes and fibers, and (iv) aggregates of broken and partially disintegrated sheaths, fibers, and particles embedded in extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) occasionally including microbial cells. X-ray microanalyses by energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) revealed that the mat accumulated largely Fe but also smaller amounts of Si and traces of P and Ca. Particles rich in Si and Al (possibly kaolinite) and Ca (carbonate) were also observed. High-resolution TEM/EDS of unstained ultrathin sections suggests that microbial sheaths were highly mineralized by amorphous to cryptocrystalline Fe-rich phases and less frequently by other fine-grained and fibrous authigenic claylike minerals. Total number of microorganisms in the iron mats was 5.8×105 cells, g sed−1 (wet weight). Analysis of the 16S rRNA gene diversity revealed microorganisms assigned to eight different phyla [Proteobacteria (62%), Chloroflexi (8%), Bacteroidetes (7%), Planctomycetes (1%), Actinobacteria (5%), Acidobacteria (6%), Nitrospira (1%), Firmicutes (5%)]. Within the Proteobacteria, Betaproteobacteria was the predominant class, which accounted for 28% of the sequences. Within this class some obvious similarities between the obtained sequences and sequences from other cave systems could be seen, especially sequences affiliated with Leptothrix, Siderooxidans, Crenothrix, Comamonadaceae, Dechloromonas, and many uncultured Betaproteobacteria. Four (4%) of the sequences could not be assigned to p