Barite (BaSO4) is found throughout the ocean, yet seawater is undersaturated with respect to barite, and organisms that could account for the abundance of barite have not yet been identified. The mechanism for barite formation in seawater is not fully understood. Here we show that marine bacteria have the ability to precipitate barite through a metabolically mediated biomineralization process. We precipitated barite in laboratory experiments in the presence of several strains of marine bacteria grown on yeast media enriched with barium (Ba); barite did not precipitate under identical conditions in killed-bacteria controls. The crystals develop from amorphous, phosphorous-rich spherical precursors with fibrous internal textures, common in bacterial mineral precipitation. Bacterial mediation of barite precipitation can explain the distribution of barite in the water column and the occurrence of barite crystals in organic-rich sinking aggregates where bacteria are concentrated. This finding has implications for the use of barite and Ba proxies in paleoceanographic research.

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