Crusts and chimneys composed of authigenic barite are found at methane seeps and hydrothermal vents that expel fluids rich in barium. Microbial processes have not previously been associated with barite precipitation in marine cold seep settings. Here, we report on the precipitation of barite on filaments of sulfide-oxidizing bacteria at a brine seep in the Gulf of Mexico. Barite-mineralized bacterial filaments in the interiors of authigenic barite crusts resemble filamentous sulfide-oxidizing bacteria of the genus Beggiatoa. Clone library and iTag amplicon sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene show that the barite crusts that host these filaments also preserve DNA of Candidatus Maribeggiatoa, as well as sulfate-reducing bacteria. Isotopic analyses show that the sulfur and oxygen isotope compositions of barite have lower δ34S and δ18O values than many other marine barite crusts, which is consistent with barite precipitation in an environment in which sulfide oxidation was occurring. Laboratory experiments employing isolates of sulfide-oxidizing bacteria from Gulf of Mexico seep sediments showed that under low sulfate conditions, such as those encountered in brine fluids, sulfate generated by sulfide-oxidizing bacteria fosters rapid barite precipitation localized on cell biomass, leading to the encrustation of bacteria in a manner reminiscent of our observations of barite-mineralized Beggiatoa in the Gulf of Mexico. The precipitation of barite directly on filaments of sulfide-oxidizing bacteria, and not on other benthic substrates, suggests that sulfide oxidation plays a role in barite formation at certain marine brine seeps where sulfide is oxidized to sulfate in contact with barium-rich fluids, either prior to, or during, the mixing of those fluids with sulfate-containing seawater in the vicinity of the sediment/water interface. As with many other geochemical interfaces that foster mineral precipitation, both biological and abiological processes likely contribute to the precipitation of barite at marine brine seeps such as the one studied here.
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© 2015 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.