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Abstract

The alteration of basaltic glass in the volcanic part of the oceanic crust is, to a substantial extent, biologically mediated. Evidence of microbial interaction with basaltic glass can be provided by a number of independent observations, such as: (1) Textures at the alteration front, generated by dissolution of the glass and subsequent precipitation. These bio-generated textures can be defined as a granular type (dominant) and a tubular type, and show size and form which are compatible with microbial etching. (2) Filament-like structures, representing organic remains, appear in connection with bio-generated textures. (3) Within areas of the bio-generated textures, particularly at the alteration front, DNA and ribosomal RNA have been demonstrated to be present in relatively young samples. (4) X-ray mapping shows that carbon and nitrogen invariably appear within the bio-generated textures, in young samples most strongly enriched at the alteration front. (5) Carbon isotopes (δ13C) in carbonates extracted from the glassy margin of pillows show highly variable values which can be explained in terms of bio-fractionation of the 12C and 13C isotopes. Estimates of the proportion of bio-genetic alteration products of basaltic glass, on the basis of textural relationships, suggest that bio-alteration is dominant compared to abiotic alteration in the upper 300 m of the oceanic crust, and declines to become insignificant at a depth of about 500 m.

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