Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Study of a Photosynthetic Microbial Mat and Comparison with Archean Cherts

Abstract : Organic radicals in artificially carbonized biomass dominated by oxygenic and non-oxygenic photosynthetic bacteria, Microcoleus chthonoplastes-like and Chloroflexus-like bacteria respectively, were studied by Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. The two bacteria species were sampled in mats from a hypersaline lake. They underwent accelerated ageing by cumulative thermal treatments to induce progressive carbonization of the biological material, mimicking the natural maturation of carbonaceous material of Archean age. For thermal treatments at temperatures higher than 620 °C, a drastic increase in the EPR linewidth is observed in the carbonaceous matter from oxygenic photosynthetic bacteria and not anoxygenic photosynthetic bacteria. This selective EPR linewidth broadening reflects the presence of a catalytic element inducing formation of radical aggregates, without affecting the molecular structure or the microstructure of the organic matter, as shown by Raman spectroscopy and Transmission Electron Microscopy. For comparison, we carried out an EPR study of organic radicals in silicified carbonaceous rocks (cherts) from various localities, of different ages (0.42 to 3.5 Gyr) and having undergone various degrees of metamorphism, i.e. various degrees of natural carbonization. EPR linewidth dispersion for the most primitive samples was quite significant, pointing to a selective dipolar broadening similar to that observed for carbonized bacteria. This surprising result merits further evaluation in the light of its potential use as a marker of past bacterial metabolisms, in particular oxygenic photosynthesis, in Archean cherts.
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Mathilde Bourbin, Sylvie Derenne, Didier Gourier, Jean-Noël Rouzaud, Pascale Gautret, et al.. Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Study of a Photosynthetic Microbial Mat and Comparison with Archean Cherts. Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, Springer Verlag, 2012, 42 (6), pp.569-585. ⟨10.1007/s11084-012-9320-3⟩. ⟨insu-00767794⟩

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