We often think of strong winds and waves as the forces that erode the mountains and rocks around us, but there is an entire world of erosion taking place at a microscopic scale. Far less visible to the human eye, microbes play a large role in the breakdown of rocks and minerals.
Like humans, microbes need energy to live and grow. Microbes can get that energy by “eating” one material—nutrients or metals like iron—and by “breathing” another—oxygen or other chemical compounds like nitrate. As they do this, microbes transfer electrons from the metal to the oxygen in a set of processes called reduction and oxidation. Together, these processes provide the energy needed to support life.
Mineral-eating microbes known as chemolithotrophs can have a big impact on the geologic world. Some chemolithotrophic microbes can get their energy directly from the oxidation of rock-forming minerals. Many plants, fungi, and other microbes contribute to the breakdown of rock through the production of acid. However, we don’t know very much about how chemolithotrophs break down rock. Chemolithotrophs have been observed breaking down minerals in the ocean, but does that ability extend to land?
Researchers from University of Wisconsin, University of Bristol, and Pennsylvania State University wanted to understand how these mineral-eating microbes break down bedrock, the layer of solid rock underlying soil in the Earth’s crust. Iron-eating microbes are a common type of chemolithotroph and were...
Read Full Story: https://sciworthy.com/microbes-that-eat-iron-are-a-cause-of-bedrock-erosion/
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