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Modern Microbial Ecosystems are a Key to Understanding Our Biosphere's Early Evolution and its Contributions To The Atmosphere and Rock RecordThe survival of our early biosphere depended upon efficient coordination anion- diverse microbial populations. Microbial mats exhibit a 3.46-billion-year fossil record, thus they are the oldest known ecosystems. Photosynthetic microbial mats were key because, today, sunlight powers more than 99 percent of global primary productivity. Thus photosynthetic ecosystems have affected the atmosphere profoundly and have created the most pervasive, easily-detected fossils. Photosynthetic biospheres elsewhere will be most detectible via telescopes or spacecraft. As a part of the Astrobiology Institute, our Ames Microbial Ecosystems group examines the roles played by ecological processes in the early evolution of our biosphere, as recorded in geologic fossils and in the macromolecules of living cells: (1) We are defining the microbial mat microenvironment, which was an important milieu for early evolution. (2) We are comparing mats in contrasting environments to discern strategies of adaptation and diversification, traits that were key for long-term survival. (3) We have selected sites that mimic key environmental attributes of early Earth and thereby focus upon evolutionary adaptations to long-term changes in the global environment. (4) Our studies of gas exchange contribute to better estimates of biogenic gases in Earth's early atmosphere. This group therefore directly addresses the question: How have the Earth and its biosphere influenced each other over time Our studies strengthen the systematics for interpreting the microbial fossil record and thereby enhance astrobiological studies of martian samples. Our models of biogenic gas emissions will enhance models of atmospheres that might be detected on inhabited extrasolar planets. This work therefore also addresses the question: How can other biospheres be recogniZed" Our choice of field sites helps us explore Earth's evolving early environment. For example, modern mats that occupy thermal springs and certain freshwater environments experience conditions such as low O2 and sulfate and high inorganic carbon and sulfide levels that resemble those of ancient marine environments. Later in history, both biologically-induced carbonate precipitation and the trapping and binding of suspended grains of carbonate became a dominant mechanism for carbonate deposition. Modern marine carbonate platforms and alkaline offer good examples of microbiologically-induced calcification. Both marine platforms and solar salterns illustrate microbially-driven trapping and binding. We are also exploring the effects of water composition upon the exchange of biogenic gases with the atmosphere.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
DesMarais, David J.
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA United States)
DeVincenzi, Donald L.
Date Acquired
August 20, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2000
Subject Category
Life Sciences (General)
Meeting Information
Astrobiology Science(Moffett Field, CA)
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 344-50-92-02
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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