The genetics of geochemistry

Laura R. Croal, Jeffrey A. Gralnick, Davin Malasarn, Dianne K. Newman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Bacteria are remarkable in their metabolic diversity due to their ability to harvest energy from myriad oxidation and reduction reactions. In some cases, their metabolisms involve redox transformations of metal(loid)s, which lead to the precipitation, transformation, or dissolution of minerals. Microorganism/mineral interactions not only affect the geochemistry of modern environments, but may also have contributed to shaping the near-surface environment of the early Earth. For example, bacterial anaerobic respiration of ferric iron or the toxic metalloid arsenic is well known to affect water quality in many parts of the world today, whereas the utilization of ferrous iron as an electron donor in anoxygenic photosynthesis may help explain the origin of Banded Iron Formations, a class of ancient sedimentary deposits. Bacterial genetics holds the key to understanding how these metabolisms work. Once the genes and gene products that catalyze geochemically relevant reactions are understood, as well as the conditions that trigger their expression, we may begin to predict when and to what extent these metabolisms influence modern geochemical cycles, as well as develop a basis for deciphering their origins and how organisms that utilized them may have altered the chemical and physical features of our planet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-202
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Genetics
StatePublished - 2004


  • Arsenic
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Iron
  • Photosynthesis
  • Respiration

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