Microbial excavation of solid carbonates powered by P-type ATPase-mediated transcellular Ca2+ transport

Ferran Garcia-Pichel, Edgardo Ramírez-Reinat, Qunjie Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Some microbes, among them a few species of cyanobacteria, are able to excavate carbonate minerals, from limestone to biogenic carbonates, including coral reefs, in a bioerosive activity that directly links biological and geological parts of the global carbon cycle. The physiological mechanisms that enable such endolithic cyanobacteria to bore, however, remain unknown. In fact, their boring constitutes a geochemical paradox, in that photoautotrophic metabolism will tend to precipitate carbonates, not dissolve them.We developed a stable microbe/mineral boring system based on a cyanobacterial isolate, strain BC008, with which to study the process of microbial excavation directly in the laboratory. Measurements of boring into calcite under different light regimes, and an analysis of photopigment content and photosynthetic rates along boring filaments, helped us reject mechanisms based on the spatial or temporal separation of alkali versus Acid-generating metabolism (i.e., photosynthesis and respiration). Instead, extracellular Ca2+ imaging of boring cultures in vivo showed that BC008 was able to take up Ca2+ at the excavation front, decreasing the local extracellular ion activity product of calcium carbonate enough to promote spontaneous dissolution there. Intracellular Ca 2+ was then transported away along the multicellular cyanobacterial trichomes and excreted at the distal borehole opening into the external medium. Inhibition assays and gene expression analyses indicate that the uptake and transport was driven by P-type Ca2+-ATPases. We believe such a chemically simple and biologically sophisticated mechanism for boring to be unparalleled among bacteria.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21749-21754
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2010


  • Bioerosion
  • Calcium metabolism
  • Endoliths
  • Microbialites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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