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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2007 Oct;73(19):6172-80. Epub 2007 Aug 10.

Microbial community biofabrics in a geothermal mine adit.

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Division of Environmental Science and Engineering, Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado 80401, USA.


Speleothems such as stalactites and stalagmites are usually considered to be mineralogical in composition and origin; however, microorganisms have been implicated in the development of some speleothems. We have identified and characterized the biological and mineralogical composition of mat-like biofabrics in two novel kinds of speleothems from a 50 degrees C geothermal mine adit near Glenwood Springs, CO. One type of structure consists of 2- to 3-cm-long, 3- to 4-mm-wide, leather-like, hollow, soda straw stalactites. Light and electron microscopy indicated that the stalactites are composed of a mineralized biofabric with several cell morphotypes in a laminated form, with gypsum and sulfur as the dominant mineral components. A small-subunit rRNA gene phylogenetic community analysis along the stalactite length yielded a diverse gradient of organisms, with a relatively simple suite of main constituents: Thermus spp., crenarchaeotes, Chloroflexi, and Gammaproteobacteria. PCR analysis also detected putative crenarchaeal ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA) genes in this community, the majority related to sequences from other geothermal systems. The second type of speleothem, dumpling-like rafts floating on a 50 degrees C pool on the floor of the adit, showed a mat-like fabric of evidently living organisms on the outside of the dumpling, with a multimineral, amorphous, gypsum-based internal composition. These two novel types of biofabrics are examples of the complex roles that microbes can play in mineralization, weathering, and deposition processes in karst environments.

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