, Volume 88, Issue 2, pp 109-117
Date: 02 Feb 2006

Photosynthesis in the Archean Era

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Abstract

The earliest reductant for photosynthesis may have been H2. The carbon isotope composition measured in graphite from the 3.8-Ga Isua Supercrustal Belt in Greenland is attributed to H2-driven photosynthesis, rather than to oxygenic photosynthesis as there would have been no evolutionary pressure for oxygenic photosynthesis in the presence of H2. Anoxygenic photosynthesis may also be responsible for the filamentous mats found in the 3.4-Ga Buck Reef Chert in South Africa. Another early reductant was probably H2S. Eventually the supply of H2 in the atmosphere was likely to have been attenuated by the production of CH4 by methanogens, and the supply of H2S was likely to have been restricted to special environments near volcanos. Evaporites, possible stromatolites, and possible microfossils found in the 3.5-Ga Warrawoona Megasequence in Australia are attributed to sulfur-driven photosynthesis. Proteobacteria and protocyanobacteria are assumed to have evolved to use ferrous iron as reductant sometime around 3.0 Ga or earlier. This type of photosynthesis could have produced banded iron formations similar to those produced by oxygenic photosynthesis. Microfossils, stromatolites, and chemical biomarkers in Australia and South Africa show that cyanobacteria containing chlorophyll a and carrying out oxygenic photosynthesis appeared by 2.8 Ga, but the oxygen level in the atmosphere did not begin to increase until about 2.3 Ga.