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  1. Abstract

    The biotic and abiotic controls on major shifts in atmospheric oxygen and the persistence of low-oxygen periods over a majority of Earth’s history remain under debate. Explanations of Earth’s stepwise pattern of oxygenation have mostly neglected the effect of changing diel illumination dynamics linked to daylength, which has increased through geological time due to Earth’s rotational deceleration caused by tidal friction. Here we used microsensor measurements and dynamic modelling of interfacial solute fluxes in cyanobacterial mats to investigate the effect of changing daylength on Precambrian benthic ecosystems. Simulated increases in daylength across Earth’s historical range boosted the diel benthic oxygen export, even when the gross photosynthetic production remained constant. This fundamental relationship between net productivity and daylength emerges from the interaction of diffusive mass transfer and diel illumination dynamics, and is amplified by metabolic regulation and microbial behaviour. We found that the resultant daylength-driven surplus organic carbon burial could have shaped the increase in atmospheric oxygen that occurred during the Great and Neoproterozoic Oxidation Events. Our suggested mechanism, which links the coinciding increases in daylength and atmospheric oxygen via enhanced net productivity, reveals a possible contribution of planetary mechanics to the evolution of Earth’s biology and geochemistry.

  2. Bernstein, Hans C. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Cyanobacterial mats profoundly influenced Earth’s biological and geochemical evolution and still play important ecological roles in the modern world. However, the biogeochemical functioning of cyanobacterial mats under persistent low-O 2 conditions, which dominated their evolutionary history, is not well understood. To investigate how different metabolic and biogeochemical functions are partitioned among community members, we conducted metagenomics and metatranscriptomics on cyanobacterial mats in the low-O 2 , sulfidic Middle Island sinkhole (MIS) in Lake Huron. Metagenomic assembly and binning yielded 144 draft metagenome assembled genomes, including 61 of medium quality or better, and the dominant cyanobacteria and numerous Proteobacteria involved in sulfur cycling. Strains of a Phormidium autumnale -like cyanobacterium dominated the metagenome and metatranscriptome. Transcripts for the photosynthetic reaction core genes psaA and psbA were abundant in both day and night. Multiple types of psbA genes were expressed from each cyanobacterium, and the dominant psbA transcripts were from an atypical microaerobic type of D1 protein from Phormidium . Further, cyanobacterial transcripts for photosystem I genes were more abundant than those for photosystem II, and two types of Phormidium sulfide quinone reductase were recovered, consistent with anoxygenic photosynthesis via photosystem I in the presence of sulfide. Transcripts indicate active sulfurmore »oxidation and reduction within the cyanobacterial mat, predominately by Gammaproteobacteria and Deltaproteobacteria , respectively. Overall, these genomic and transcriptomic results link specific microbial groups to metabolic processes that underpin primary production and biogeochemical cycling in a low-O 2 cyanobacterial mat and suggest mechanisms for tightly coupled cycling of oxygen and sulfur compounds in the mat ecosystem. IMPORTANCE Cyanobacterial mats are dense communities of microorganisms that contain photosynthetic cyanobacteria along with a host of other bacterial species that play important yet still poorly understood roles in this ecosystem. Although such cyanobacterial mats were critical agents of Earth’s biological and chemical evolution through geological time, little is known about how they function under the low-oxygen conditions that characterized most of their natural history. Here, we performed sequencing of the DNA and RNA of modern cyanobacterial mat communities under low-oxygen and sulfur-rich conditions from the Middle Island sinkhole in Lake Huron. The results reveal the organisms and metabolic pathways that are responsible for both oxygen-producing and non-oxygen-producing photosynthesis as well as interconversions of sulfur that likely shape how much O 2 is produced in such ecosystems. These findings indicate tight metabolic reactions between community members that help to explain the limited the amount of O 2 produced in cyanobacterial mat ecosystems.« less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Sulfide inhibits oxygenic photosynthesis by blocking electron transfer between H2O and the oxygen-evolving complex in the D1 protein of Photosystem II. The ability of cyanobacteria to counter this effect has implications for understanding the productivity of benthic microbial mats in sulfidic environments throughout Earth history. In Lake Fryxell, Antarctica, the benthic, filamentous cyanobacterium Phormidium pseudopriestleyi creates a 1–2 mm thick layer of 50 µmol L−1 O2 in otherwise sulfidic water, demonstrating that it sustains oxygenic photosynthesis in the presence of sulfide. A metagenome-assembled genome of P. pseudopriestleyi indicates a genetic capacity for oxygenic photosynthesis, including multiple copies of psbA (encoding the D1 protein of Photosystem II), and anoxygenic photosynthesis with a copy of sqr (encoding the sulfide quinone reductase protein that oxidizes sulfide). The genomic content of P. pseudopriestleyi is consistent with sulfide tolerance mechanisms including increasing psbA expression or directly oxidizing sulfide with sulfide quinone reductase. However, the ability of the organism to reduce Photosystem I via sulfide quinone reductase while Photosystem II is sulfide-inhibited, thereby performing anoxygenic photosynthesis in the presence of sulfide, has yet to be demonstrated.