Abstract

Brine-shrimp egg cases in growth cavities in modern stromatolites in the Great Salt Lake, Utah, are replaced by aragonite and cemented together by aragonite cement. The fabric of the cement changes dramatically as the distance from the egg case increases. The cement within 50 to 70 μm of the egg case exhibits a random fabric of 10 to 20 μm equant crystals. The surface of the cement is covered by bead-like bumps, 0.1 μm in diameter, interpreted as nannobacteria. Overlying the random, “beaded” fabric with a relatively abrupt transition are epitaxial, prismatic aragonite crystals that have smooth crystal surfaces lacking bead-like bodies. The smooth-surfaced prismatic aragonite crystals are interpreted to be “normal” abiotic precipitates, whereas the “beaded” microspar is interpreted to result from biotic processes, where the nannobacteria serve as catalysts for creation of the cement. A population explosion of bacteria occurs as the organic material of egg case rots, which alters the microchemical environment and induces a rapid precipitation of aragonite, enclosing tens of thousands of nannobacteria. As the organic material is destroyed, reproduction of bacteria slows and epitaxial, prismatic aragonite crystals nucleate and grow abiotically on the structureless, “biotic” layer.

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