Special Issue "Water–Rock Interactions and Life"

A special issue of Life (ISSN 2075-1729). This special issue belongs to the section "Astrobiology".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 September 2019

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Nancy W. Hinman

College of Humanities and Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812-1296, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: geochemistry; aqueous geochemistry; water–rock interaction; astrobiology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Life’s existence elsewhere in the universe is one of the most profound issues for science, indeed for humanity. Many lines of evidence suggest that habitable environments exist on planets and satellites in our solar system. These environments contain the chemical ingredients that would be necessary to sustain life on Earth—water, carbon, and trace nutrients. The ability to harvest energy, another component necessary for sustaining life, derives from reactions of chemical ingredients, which ultimately come from abiotic sources: rock or atmosphere. The interactions of water with rock and the atmosphere are critical for releasing carbon and nutrients and for mediating energy-evolving reactions.

Life, by asserting itself at the interface between water, rock, and atmosphere, manages its environment and leaves a record of its manipulations in the form of chemical or physical signatures. As life uses the products of water–rock interactions, it changes them into other forms. The rates and sequences of these modifications are tuned by life to maximize the benefit and minimize the cost, sometimes through formation of unstable mineral phases. Water–rock interactions provide a framework to address fundamental questions about the co-evolution of life with its environment, the ability of life to manipulate and manage chemical reactions, and the record left by life of these reactions.

This issue examines the role of water–rock interaction in the search for signatures of life on Earth and, by extrapolation, to other systems. We invite contributions on the role of life in water–rock interactions and on the signatures imparted by these processes. Specific areas include kinetics, isotope exchange, mineralogy, mineral morphology and surface properties, and unstable minerals for nutrient storage and detoxification.

Prof. Nancy W. Hinman
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • water–rock interaction
  • geochemistry
  • mineralogy
  • mineral interfaces
  • biosignatures
  • metastable phases

Published Papers (3 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle A Spectral Comparison of Jarosites Using Techniques Relevant to the Robotic Exploration of Biosignatures on Mars
Received: 7 September 2018 / Revised: 30 November 2018 / Accepted: 2 December 2018 / Published: 6 December 2018
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Abstract
The acidic sulfate-rich waters of the Meridiani Planum region were potentially a habitable environment for iron-oxidizing bacteria on ancient Mars. If life existed in this ancient martian environment, jarosite minerals precipitating in these waters may record evidence of this biological activity. Since the [...] Read more.
The acidic sulfate-rich waters of the Meridiani Planum region were potentially a habitable environment for iron-oxidizing bacteria on ancient Mars. If life existed in this ancient martian environment, jarosite minerals precipitating in these waters may record evidence of this biological activity. Since the Meridiani jarosite is thermodynamically stable at the martian surface, any biosignatures preserved in the jarosites may be readily available for analysis in the current surface sediments during the ongoing robotic exploration of Mars. However, thermal decomposition experiments indicate that organic compound detection of sediments containing jarosite may be challenging when using pyrolysis experiments; the instrument commonly used to assess organic matter in martian samples. So, here, we assess if the biogenicity of the Meridiani-type jarosites can be determined using complimentary spectroscopic techniques also utilized during the robotic exploration of Mars, including the upcoming ExoMars2020 rover mission. An abiotic jarosite, synthesized following established protocols, and a biological jarosite counterpart, derived from a microbial enrichment culture of Rio Tinto river sediments, were used to compare four spectroscopy techniques employed in the robotic exploration of Mars (Raman spectroscopy, mid-infrared (IR) spectroscopy, visible near-infrared reflectance (VNIR) spectroscopy and Mössbauer spectroscopy) to determine if the complimentary information obtained using these instruments can help elucidate the biological influence of Meridiani-type jarosites. Raman spectral differences might be due to the presence of unreacted reagents in the synthetic spectra and not biological contributions. Reflectance (IR/VNIR) spectra might exhibit minor organic absorption contributions, but are observed in both sample spectra, and do not represent a biosignature. Mössbauer spectra show minor differences in fit parameters that are related to crystal morphology and are unrelated to the biological (i.e., organic) component of the system. Results of this study suggest that the identification of biosignatures in Meridiani-type jarosites using the in situ robotic exploration on Mars may be possible but will be challenging. Our work provides additional insight into extraterrestrial biosignature detection and data interpretation for Mars exploration and indicates that sample return missions are likely required to unequivocally resolve the possible biogenicity of the Meridiani sediments or other jarosite-containing sediments. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water–Rock Interactions and Life)
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Open AccessArticle Jarosite and Alunite in Ancient Terrestrial Sedimentary Rocks: Reinterpreting Martian Depositional and Diagenetic Environmental Conditions
Received: 2 June 2018 / Revised: 24 July 2018 / Accepted: 25 July 2018 / Published: 3 August 2018
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Abstract
Members of the alunite group are precipitated at low pH (<1 to ~4) in oxidizing environments, are unstable in circumneutral conditions, and are widespread on Mars. At Mollies Nipple in Kane County, Utah, USA, jarosite and alunite are abundant as diagenetic cements in [...] Read more.
Members of the alunite group are precipitated at low pH (<1 to ~4) in oxidizing environments, are unstable in circumneutral conditions, and are widespread on Mars. At Mollies Nipple in Kane County, Utah, USA, jarosite and alunite are abundant as diagenetic cements in Jurassic sandstones. This research characterizes the jarosite and alunite cements with the goal of determining their origin, and tests the hypothesis that jarosite and alunite may be more stable than the current understanding indicates is possible. Previous studies have placed the jarosite- and alunite-bearing caprock at Mollies Nipple in the Navajo Sandstone, but the presence of water-lain deposits, volcanic ash, volcanic clasts, and peloids show that it is one of the overlying Middle Jurassic units that records sea level transgressions and regressions. A paragenetic timing, established from petrographic methods, shows that much of the cement was precipitated early in a marginal marine to coastal dune depositional environment with a fluctuating groundwater table that drove ferrolysis and evolved the groundwater to a low pH. Microbial interaction was likely a large contributor to the evolution of this acidity. Jarosite and alunite are clearly more stable in natural environments than is predicted by laboratory experiments, and therefore, the Martian environments that have been interpreted as largely acidic and/or dry over geologic time may have been more habitable than previously thought. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water–Rock Interactions and Life)
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Review

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Open AccessReview Mineral Surface-Templated Self-Assembling Systems: Case Studies from Nanoscience and Surface Science towards Origins of Life Research
Received: 31 March 2018 / Revised: 26 April 2018 / Accepted: 3 May 2018 / Published: 8 May 2018
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Abstract
An increasing body of evidence relates the wide range of benefits mineral surfaces offer for the development of early living systems, including adsorption of small molecules from the aqueous phase, formation of monomeric subunits and their subsequent polymerization, and supramolecular assembly of biopolymers [...] Read more.
An increasing body of evidence relates the wide range of benefits mineral surfaces offer for the development of early living systems, including adsorption of small molecules from the aqueous phase, formation of monomeric subunits and their subsequent polymerization, and supramolecular assembly of biopolymers and other biomolecules. Each of these processes was likely a necessary stage in the emergence of life on Earth. Here, we compile evidence that templating and enhancement of prebiotically-relevant self-assembling systems by mineral surfaces offers a route to increased structural, functional, and/or chemical complexity. This increase in complexity could have been achieved by early living systems before the advent of evolvable systems and would not have required the generally energetically unfavorable formation of covalent bonds such as phosphodiester or peptide bonds. In this review we will focus on various case studies of prebiotically-relevant mineral-templated self-assembling systems, including supramolecular assemblies of peptides and nucleic acids, from nanoscience and surface science. These fields contain valuable information that is not yet fully being utilized by the origins of life and astrobiology research communities. Some of the self-assemblies that we present can promote the formation of new mineral surfaces, similar to biomineralization, which can then catalyze more essential prebiotic reactions; this could have resulted in a symbiotic feedback loop by which geology and primitive pre-living systems were closely linked to one another even before life’s origin. We hope that the ideas presented herein will seed some interesting discussions and new collaborations between nanoscience/surface science researchers and origins of life/astrobiology researchers. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Water–Rock Interactions and Life)
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