Article: Metal cation binding by the hyperthermophilic microorganism, Archaea Methanocaldococcus Jannaschii, and its effects on silicification
François Orange, Jean-Robert Disnar, Frances Westall, Frances Westall and Patrick Baillif
A series of experiments was conducted to determine the capacity of an archaeal strain, Methanocaldococcus jannaschii, to bind metals and to study the effects of metal binding on the subsequent silicification of the microorganisms. The results showed that M. jannaschii can rapidly bind several metal cations (Fe3+, Ca2+, Pb2+, Zn2+, Cu2+). Considering the lack of silicification of this strain without metal binding, these experiments demonstrate that Fe(III) ion binding to the cell wall components was of fundamental importance for successful silicification and, especially, for the excellent preservation of the cell wall. This study brings new elements to the understanding of fossilization processes, showing that the positive effect of Fe(III) on silicification, already known for Bacteria, can also apply to Archaea and that this preliminary binding can be decisive for the subsequent fossilization of these organisms. Knowledge of these mechanisms can be helpful for the search and the identification of microfossils in both terrestrial and extraterrestrials rocks, and in particular on Mars.