Photoautotrophs assimilate oxidized carbon obtained from one of two sources: dissolved or atmospheric. Despite its size, the pool of lithospheric carbonate is not known to be a direct source for autotrophy. Yet, the mechanism that euendolithic cyanobacteria use to excavate solid carbonates suggests that minerals could directly supply CO2 for autotrophy. Here, we use stable isotopes and NanoSIMS to show that the cyanobacterium Mastigocoleus testarum derives most of its carbon from the mineral it excavates, growing preferentially as an endolith when lacking dissolved CO2. Furthermore, natural endolithic communities from intertidal marine carbonate outcrops present carbon isotopic signatures consistent with mineral-sourced autotrophy. These data demonstrate a direct geomicrobial link between mineral carbonate pools and reduced organic carbon, which, given the geographical extent of carbonate outcrops, is likely of global relevance. The ancient fossil record of euendolithic cyanobacteria suggests that biological fixation of solid carbonate could have been relevant since the mid-Proterozoic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1025
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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