Production and early preservation of lipid biomarkers in iron hot springs

Mary N. Parenteau, Linda L. Jahnke, Jack Farmer, Sherry L. Cady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The bicarbonate-buffered anoxic vent waters at Chocolate Pots hot springs in Yellowstone National Park are 51-54°C, pH 5.5-6.0, and are very high in dissolved Fe(II) at 5.8-5.9mg/L. The aqueous Fe(II) is oxidized by a combination of biotic and abiotic mechanisms and precipitated as primary siliceous nanophase iron oxyhydroxides (ferrihydrite). Four distinct prokaryotic photosynthetic microbial mat types grow on top of these iron deposits. Lipids were used to characterize the community composition of the microbial mats, link source organisms to geologically significant biomarkers, and investigate how iron mineralization degrades the lipid signature of the community. The phospholipid and glycolipid fatty acid profiles of the highest-Temperature mats indicate that they are dominated by cyanobacteria and green nonsulfur filamentous anoxygenic phototrophs (FAPs). Diagnostic lipid biomarkers of the cyanobacteria include midchain branched mono-And dimethylalkanes and, most notably, 2-methylbacteriohopanepolyol. Diagnostic lipid biomarkers of the FAPs (Chloroflexus and Roseiflexus spp.) include wax esters and a long-chain tri-unsaturated alkene. Surprisingly, the lipid biomarkers resisted the earliest stages of microbial degradation and diagenesis to survive in the iron oxides beneath the mats. Understanding the potential of particular sedimentary environments to capture and preserve fossil biosignatures is of vital importance in the selection of the best landing sites for future astrobiological missions to Mars. This study explores the nature of organic degradation processes in moderately thermal Fe(II)-rich groundwater springs -environmental conditions that have been previously identified as highly relevant for Mars exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)502-521
Number of pages20
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2014


  • Hot springs
  • Iron
  • Lipid biomarkers
  • Mars.
  • Photosynthesis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Production and early preservation of lipid biomarkers in iron hot springs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this