Gold Open Access: This paper is published under the terms of the CC-BY license

The presence of clay-sized particles and clay minerals in modern sands and ancient sandstones has long presented an interesting problem, because primary depositional processes tend to lead to physical separation of fine- and coarse-grained materials. Numerous processes have been invoked to explain the common presence of clay minerals in sandstones, including infiltration, the codeposition of flocculated muds, and bioturbation-induced sediment mixing. How and why clay minerals form as grain coats at the site of deposition remains uncertain, despite clay-coated sand grains being of paramount importance for subsequent diagenetic sandstone properties. We have identified a new biofilm mechanism that explains clay material attachment to sand grain surfaces that leads to the production of detrital clay coats. This study focuses on a modern estuary using a combination of field work, scanning electron microscopy, petrography, biomarker analysis, and Raman spectroscopy to provide evidence of the pivotal role that biofilms play in the formation of clay-coated sand grains. This study shows that within modern marginal marine systems, clay coats primarily result from adhesive biofilms. This bio-mineral interaction potentially revolutionizes the understanding of clay-coated sand grains and offers a first step to enhanced reservoir quality prediction in ancient and deeply buried sandstones.