Abstract

More than 40 calcite-precipitation experiments were performed under sterile conditions in order to investigate the origins of 25–300 nm spherical-, rod-, and ovoid-shaped objects that have been widely interpreted as evidence of nanometer-scale life (i.e., nannobacteria). Individual experiments included the addition of soluble organic compounds, common species of eubacteria, or phage-induced eubacterial lysates. These experiments indicate that many of the nanometer-scale objects have inorganic or nonnannobacterial origins. In the precipitation experiments, calcite formed euhedral crystals 50–800 nm in diameter and smaller (<50 nm) anhedral or rounded particles or protocrystals. The small anhedral or rounded solids resembled nannobacteria. The relative amount of anhedral or rounded calcite was greatest in experiments with a dissolved organic component. These controlled experiments are in accord with observations that rounded nanometer-scale objects are more common in minerals formed in organic-rich environments. Bacterial fragments occur as rounded to irregularly shaped particles that included cell-wall fragments, expulsed cytoplasm, and relict capsules that also closely resembled nannobacteria. Acid etching of the large euhedral crystals produced in the precipitation experiments also resulted in the formation of nanometer-scale features that resembled nannobacteria in natural carbonates. The shapes of the etching artifacts vary as a function of the strength of the acid and the duration of etching. Much caution is advisable in interpreting the origin of rounded features <50 nm.

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