Processes of carbonate precipitation in modern microbial mats

Christophe Dupraz, R. Pamela Reid, Olivier Braissant, Alan W. Decho, R. Sean Norman, Pieter T. Visscher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

949 Scopus citations


Microbial mats are ecosystems that arguably greatly affected the conditions of the biosphere on Earth through geological time. These laminated organosedimentary systems, which date back to > 3.4 Ga bp, are characterized by high metabolic rates, and coupled to this, rapid cycling of major elements on very small (mm-μm) scales. The activity of the mat communities has changed Earth's redox conditions (i.e. oxidation state) through oxygen and hydrogen production. Interpretation of fossil microbial mats and their potential role in alteration of the Earth's geochemical environment is challenging because these mats are generally not well preserved. Preservation of microbial mats in the fossil record can be enhanced through carbonate precipitation, resulting in the formation of lithified mats, or microbialites. Several types of microbially-mediated mineralization can be distinguished, including biologically-induced and biologically influenced mineralization. Biologically-induced mineralization results from the interaction between biological activity and the environment. Biologically-influenced mineralization is defined as passive mineralization of organic matter (biogenic or abiogenic in origin), whose properties influence crystal morphology and composition. We propose to use the term organomineralization sensu lato as an umbrella term encompassing biologically influenced and biologically induced mineralization. Key components of organomineralization sensu lato are the "alkalinity" engine (microbial metabolism and environmental conditions impacting the calcium carbonate saturation index) and an organic matrix comprised of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), which may provide a template for carbonate nucleation. Here we review the specific role of microbes and the EPS matrix in various mineralization processes and discuss examples of modern aquatic (freshwater, marine and hypersaline) and terrestrial microbialites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-162
Number of pages22
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • EPS
  • biologically-induced mineralization
  • biologically-influenced mineralization
  • biomineral
  • microbial mats
  • microbialites
  • organomineral
  • organomineralization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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