Astrobiology August 2008, 8(4): 747-770.
Exopolymeric substances (EPS) are an integral component of microbial biofilms; however, few studies have addressed their silicification and preservation in hot-spring deposits. Through comparative analyses with the use of a range of microscopy techniques, we identified abundant EPS significant to the textural development of spicular, microstromatolitic, siliceous sinter at Champagne Pool, Waiotapu, New Zealand. Examination of biofilms coating sinter surfaces by confocal laser scanning microscopy (CLSM), environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM), cryoscanning electron microscopy (cryo-SEM), and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) revealed contraction of the gelatinous EPS matrix into films (approximately 10 nm thick) or fibrillar structures, which is common in conventional SEM analyses and analogous to products of naturally occurring desiccation.
Silicification of fibrillar EPS contributed to the formation of filamentous sinter. Matrix surfaces or dehydrated films templated sinter laminae (nanometers to microns thick) that, in places, preserved fenestral voids beneath. Laminae of similar thickness are, in general, common to spicular geyserites. This is the first report to demonstrate EPS templation of siliceous stromatolite laminae. Considering the ubiquity of biofilms on surfaces in hot-spring environments, EPS silicification studies are likely to be important to a better understanding of the origins of laminae in other modern and ancient stromatolitic sinters, and EPS potentially may serve as biosignatures in extraterrestrial rocks.
Astrobiology 8, 747770.