Bacterial diversity and carbonate precipitation in the giant microbialites from the highly alkaline Lake Van, Turkey
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- López-García, P., Kazmierczak, J., Benzerara, K. et al. Extremophiles (2005) 9: 263. doi:10.1007/s00792-005-0457-0
Lake Van harbors the largest known microbialites on Earth. The surface of these huge carbonate pinnacles is covered by coccoid cyanobacteria whereas their central axis is occupied by a channel through which neutral, relatively Ca-enriched, groundwater flows into highly alkaline (pH ~9.7) Ca-poor lake water. Previous microscopy observations showed the presence of aragonite globules composed by rounded nanostructures of uncertain origin that resemble similar bodies found in some meteorites. Here, we have carried out fine-scale mineralogical and microbial diversity analyses from surface and internal microbialite samples. Electron transmission microscopy revealed that the nanostructures correspond to rounded aragonite nanoprecipitates. A progressive mineralization of cells by the deposition of nanoprecipitates on their surface was observed from external towards internal microbialite areas. Molecular diversity studies based on 16S rDNA amplification revealed the presence of bacterial lineages affiliated to the Alpha-, Beta- and Gammaproteobacteria, the Cyanobacteria, the Cytophaga-Flexibacter-Bacteroides (CFB) group, the Actinobacteria and the Firmicutes. Cyanobacteria and CFB members were only detected in surface layers. The most abundant and diverse lineages were the Firmicutes (low GC Gram positives). To the exclusion of cyanobacteria, the closest cultivated members to the Lake Van phylotypes were most frequently alkaliphilic and/or heterotrophic bacteria able to degrade complex organics. These heterotrophic bacteria may play a crucial role in the formation of Lake Van microbialites by locally promoting carbonate precipitation.