Matching Items (17)

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Molybdenum biogeochemistry in an evolutionary context: nitrogen assimilation, microbial storage and environmental budgets

Description

Molybdenum (Mo) is a key trace nutrient for biological assimilation of nitrogen, either as nitrogen gas (N2) or nitrate (NO3-). Although Mo is the most abundant metal in seawater (105 nM), its concentration is low (<5 nM) in most freshwaters

Molybdenum (Mo) is a key trace nutrient for biological assimilation of nitrogen, either as nitrogen gas (N2) or nitrate (NO3-). Although Mo is the most abundant metal in seawater (105 nM), its concentration is low (<5 nM) in most freshwaters today, and it was scarce in the ocean before 600 million years ago. The use of Mo for nitrogen assimilation can be understood in terms of the changing Mo availability through time; for instance, the higher Mo content of eukaryotic vs. prokaryotic nitrate reductase may have stalled proliferation of eukaryotes in low-Mo Proterozoic oceans. Field and laboratory experiments were performed to study Mo requirements for NO3- assimilation and N2 fixation, respectively. Molybdenum-nitrate addition experiments at Castle Lake, California revealed interannual and depth variability in plankton community response, perhaps resulting from differences in species composition and/or ammonium availability. Furthermore, lake sediments were elevated in Mo compared to soils and bedrock in the watershed. Box modeling suggested that the largest source of Mo to the lake was particulate matter from the watershed. Month-long laboratory experiments with heterocystous cyanobacteria (HC) showed that <1 nM Mo led to low N2 fixation rates, while 10 nM Mo was sufficient for optimal rates. At 1500 nM Mo, freshwater HC hyperaccumulated Mo intercellularly, whereas coastal HC did not. These differences in storage capacity were likely due to the presence in freshwater HC of the small molybdate-binding protein, Mop, and its absence in coastal and marine cyanobacterial species. Expression of the mop gene was regulated by Mo availability in the freshwater HC species Nostoc sp. PCC 7120. Under low Mo (<1 nM) conditions, mop gene expression was up-regulated compared to higher Mo (150 and 3000 nM) treatments, but the subunit composition of the Mop protein changed, suggesting that Mop does not bind Mo in the same manner at <1 nM Mo that it can at higher Mo concentrations. These findings support a role for Mop as a Mo storage protein in HC and suggest that freshwater HC control Mo cellular homeostasis at the post-translational level. Mop's widespread distribution in prokaryotes lends support to the theory that it may be an ancient protein inherited from low-Mo Precambrian oceans.

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Date Created
2011

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The chemical composition of exoplanet-hosting binary star systems

Description

A significant portion of stars occur as binary systems, in which two stellar components orbit a common center of mass. As the number of known exoplanet systems continues to grow, some binary systems are now known to harbor planets around

A significant portion of stars occur as binary systems, in which two stellar components orbit a common center of mass. As the number of known exoplanet systems continues to grow, some binary systems are now known to harbor planets around one or both stellar components. As a first look into composition of these planetary systems, I investigate the chemical compositions of 4 binary star systems, each of which is known to contain at least one planet. Stars are known to vary significantly in their composition, and their overall metallicity (represented by iron abundance, [Fe/H]) has been shown to correlate with the likelihood of hosting a planetary system. Furthermore, the detailed chemical composition of a system can give insight into the possible properties of the system's known exoplanets. Using high-resolution spectra, I quantify the abundances of up to 28 elements in each stellar component of the binary systems 16 Cyg, 83 Leo, HD 109749, and HD 195019. A direct comparison is made between each star and its binary companion to give a differential composition for each system. For each star, a comparison of elemental abundance vs. condensation temperature is made, which may be a good diagnostic of refractory-rich terrestrial planets in a system. The elemental ratios C/O and Mg/Si, crucial in determining the atmospheric composition and mineralogy of planets, are calculated and discussed for each star. Finally, the compositions and diagnostics of each binary system are discussed in terms of the known planetary and stellar parameters for each system.

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Date Created
2013

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Hydrothermal habitats: measurements of bulk microbial elemental composition, and models of hydrothermal influences on the evolution of dwarf planets

Description

Finding habitable worlds is a key driver of solar system exploration. Many solar

system missions seek environments providing liquid water, energy, and nutrients, the three ingredients necessary to sustain life.

Such environments include hydrothermal systems, spatially-confined systems where hot aqueous fluid circulates

Finding habitable worlds is a key driver of solar system exploration. Many solar

system missions seek environments providing liquid water, energy, and nutrients, the three ingredients necessary to sustain life.

Such environments include hydrothermal systems, spatially-confined systems where hot aqueous fluid circulates through rock by convection. I sought to characterize hydrothermal microbial communities, collected in hot spring sediments and mats at Yellowstone National Park, USA, by measuring their bulk elemental composition. To do so, one must minimize the contribution of non-biological material to the samples analyzed. I demonstrate that this can be achieved using a separation method that takes advantage of the density contrast between cells and sediment and preserves cellular elemental contents. Using this method, I show that in spite of the tremendous physical, chemical, and taxonomic diversity of Yellowstone hot springs, the composition of microorganisms there is surprisingly ordinary. This suggests the existence of a stoichiometric envelope common to all life as we know it. Thus, future planetary investigations could use elemental fingerprints to assess the astrobiological potential of hydrothermal settings beyond Earth.

Indeed, hydrothermal activity may be widespread in the solar system. Most solar system worlds larger than 200 km in radius are dwarf planets, likely composed of an icy, cometary mantle surrounding a rocky, chondritic core. I enhance a dwarf planet evolution code, including the effects of core fracturing and hydrothermal circulation, to demonstrate that dwarf planets likely have undergone extensive water-rock interaction. This supports observations of aqueous products on their surfaces. I simulate the alteration of chondritic rock by pure water or cometary fluid to show that aqueous alteration feeds back on geophysical evolution: it modifies the fluid antifreeze content, affecting its persistence over geological timescales; and the distribution of radionuclides, whose decay is a chief heat source on dwarf planets. Interaction products can be observed if transported to the surface. I simulate numerically how cryovolcanic transport is enabled by primordial and hydrothermal volatile exsolution. Cryovolcanism seems plausible on dwarf planets in light of images recently returned by spacecrafts. Thus, these coupled geophysical-geochemical models provide a comprehensive picture of dwarf planet evolution, processes, and habitability.

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Date Created
2015

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New methods for biological and environmental protein fingerprinting: from traditional techniques to new technology

Description

A new challenge on the horizon is to utilize the large amounts of protein found in the atmosphere to identify different organisms from which the protein originated. Included here is work investigating the presence of identifiable patterns of different proteins

A new challenge on the horizon is to utilize the large amounts of protein found in the atmosphere to identify different organisms from which the protein originated. Included here is work investigating the presence of identifiable patterns of different proteins collected from the air and biological samples for the purposes of remote identification. Protein patterns were generated using high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Patterns created could identify high-traffic and low-traffic indoor spaces. Samples were collected from the air using air pumps to draw air through a filter paper trapping particulates, including large amounts of shed protein matter. In complimentary research aerosolized biological samples were collected from various ecosystems throughout Ecuador to explore the relationship between environmental setting and aerosolized protein concentrations. In order to further enhance protein separation and produce more detailed patterns for the identification of individual organisms of interest; a novel separation device was constructed and characterized. The separation device incorporates a longitudinal gradient as well as insulating dielectrophoretic features within a single channel. This design allows for the production of stronger local field gradients along a global gradient allowing particles to enter, initially transported through the channel by electrophoresis and electroosmosis, and to be isolated according to their characteristic physical properties, including charge, polarizability, deformability, surface charge mobility, dielectric features, and local capacitance. Thus, different types of particles are simultaneously separated at different points along the channel distance given small variations of properties. The device has shown the ability to separate analytes over a large dynamic range of size, from 20 nm to 1 μm, roughly the size of proteins to the size of cells. In the study of different sized sulfate capped polystyrene particles were shown to be selectively captured as well as concentrating particles from 103 to 106 times. Qualitative capture and manipulation of β-amyloid fibrils were also shown. The results demonstrate the selective focusing ability of the technique; and it may form the foundation for a versatile tool for separating complex mixtures. Combined this work shows promise for future identification of individual organisms from aerosolized protein as well as for applications in biomedical research.

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Date Created
2011

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Uranium isotope variations in nature: mechanisms, applications, and implications

Description

Historically, uranium has received intense study of its chemical and isotopic properties for use in the nuclear industry, but has been largely ignored by geoscientists despite properties that make it an intriguing target for geochemists and cosmochemists alike. Uranium was

Historically, uranium has received intense study of its chemical and isotopic properties for use in the nuclear industry, but has been largely ignored by geoscientists despite properties that make it an intriguing target for geochemists and cosmochemists alike. Uranium was long thought to have an invariant 238U/235U ratio in natural samples, making it uninteresting for isotopic work. However, recent advances in mass spectrometry have made it possible to detect slight differences in the 238U/235U ratio, creating many exciting new opportunities for U isotopic research. Using uranium ore samples from diverse depositional settings from around the world, it is shown that the low-temperature redox transition of uranium (U6+ to U4+) causes measurable fractionation of the 238U/235U ratio. Moreover, it is shown experimentally that a coordination change of U can also cause measurable fractionation in the 238U/235U ratio. This improved understanding of the fractionation mechanisms of U allows for the use of the 238U/235U ratio as a paleoredox proxy. The 238U/235U ratios of carbonates deposited spanning the end-Permian extinction horizon provide evidence of pronounced and persistent widespread ocean anoxia at, or immediately preceding, the extinction boundary. Variable 238U/235U ratios correlated with proxies for initial Cm/U in the Solar System's earliest objects demonstrates the existence of 247Cm in the early Solar System. Proof of variable 238U/235U ratios in meteoritic material forces a substantive change in the previously established procedures of Pb-Pb dating, which assumed an invariant 238U/235U ratio. This advancement improves the accuracy of not only the Pb-Pb chronometer that directly utilizes the 238U/235U ratio, but also for short-lived radiometric dating techniques that indirectly use the 238U/235U ratio to calculate ages of Solar System material.

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Date Created
2011

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Application of isoleucine epimerization to assess terrestrial contamination and constrain the duration and effects of aqueous alteration of carbonaceous chondrite meteorites

Description

Carbonaceous chondrites (CCs) present a unique opportunity for learning about the earliest organic chemistry that took place in our Solar System. The complex and diverse suite of meteoritic organic material is the result of multiple settings and physicochemical processes, including

Carbonaceous chondrites (CCs) present a unique opportunity for learning about the earliest organic chemistry that took place in our Solar System. The complex and diverse suite of meteoritic organic material is the result of multiple settings and physicochemical processes, including aqueous and thermal alteration. Though meteorites often inform origin-of-life discussions because they could have seeded early Earth with significant amounts of water and pre-biotic, organic material, their record of abiotic, aqueous, and organic geochemistry is of interest as well.

CC materials previously resided on asteroidal parent bodies, relic planetesimals of Solar System formation which never accreted enough material to develop long-lived, large-scale geological processes. These bodies were large enough, however, to experience some degree of heating due to the decay of radiogenic isotopes, and the meteorite record suggests the existence of 100-150 parent bodies which experienced varying degrees of thermal and aqueous alteration for the first several 10 Myr of Solar System history.

The first chapter of this dissertation reviews literature addressing aqueous alteration as an essential participant in parent body geochemistry, organic synthesis, or both (though papers which address both are rare). The second chapter is a published organic analysis of the soluble organic material of Bells, an unclassified type 2 chondrite. Analytical approaches to assess terrestrial contamination of meteorite samples are also reviewed in the first chapter to allow introduction in chapter 3 of kinetic modeling which rules out certain cases of contamination and constrains the timing of thermal and aqueous alteration. This is the first known application of isoleucine epimerization for either of these purposes. Chapter 4 is a kinetic study of D-allo-isoleucine epimerization to establish its behavior in systems with large, relative abundances of alloisoleucine to isoleucine. Previous epimerization studies for paleontological or geological purposes began with L-isoleucine, the only protein amino acid of the four isoleucine stereoisomers.

Kinetic model calculations using isoleucine stereoisomer abundances from 7 CR chondrites constrain the total duration of the amino acids' residence in the aqueous phase. The comparatively short timescales produced by the presented modeling elicit hypotheses for protection or transport of the amino acids within the CR parent body.

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Date Created
2014

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Experimental constraints on Fe concentrations in biomass burning aerosols

Description

Atmospheric deposition of iron (Fe) can limit primary productivity and carbon dioxide uptake in some marine ecosystems. Recent modeling studies suggest that biomass burning aerosols may contribute a significant amount of soluble Fe to the surface ocean. Existing studies of

Atmospheric deposition of iron (Fe) can limit primary productivity and carbon dioxide uptake in some marine ecosystems. Recent modeling studies suggest that biomass burning aerosols may contribute a significant amount of soluble Fe to the surface ocean. Existing studies of burn-induced trace element mobilization have often collected both entrained soil particles along with material from biomass burning, making it difficult to determine the actual source of aerosolized trace metals.

In order to better constrain the importance of biomass versus entrained soil as a source of trace metals in burn aerosols, small-scale burn experiments were conducted using soil-free foliage representative of a variety of fire-impacted ecosystems. The resulting burn aerosols were collected in two stages (PM > 2.5 μm and PM < 2.5 μm) on cellulose filters using a high-volume air sampler equipped with an all-Teflon impactor. Unburned foliage and burn aerosols were analyzed for Fe and other trace metals using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS).

Results of this analysis show that less than 2% of Fe in plant biomass is likely mobilized as atmospheric aerosols during biomass burning events. The results of this study and estimates of annual global wildfire area were used to estimate the impact of biomass burning aerosols on total atmospheric Fe flux to the ocean. I estimate that foliage-derived Fe contributes 114 ± 57 Gg annually. Prior studies, which implicitly include both biomass and soil-derived Fe, concluded that biomass burning contributes approximately 690 Gg of Fe. Together, these studies suggest that fire-entrained soil particles contribute 83% (576 Gg) of Fe in biomass burning emissions, while plant derived iron only accounts for at most 17%.

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Date Created
2019

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Modeling aqueous organic chemistry in experimental and natural systems

Description

In many natural systems aqueous geochemical conditions dictate the reaction pathways of organic compounds. Geologic settings that span wide ranges in temperature, pressure, and composition vastly alter relative reaction rates and resulting organic abundances. The dependence of organic reactions on

In many natural systems aqueous geochemical conditions dictate the reaction pathways of organic compounds. Geologic settings that span wide ranges in temperature, pressure, and composition vastly alter relative reaction rates and resulting organic abundances. The dependence of organic reactions on these variables contributes to planetary-scale nutrient cycling, and suggests that relative abundances of organic compounds can reveal information about inaccessible geologic environments, whether from the terrestrial subsurface, remote planetary settings, or even the distant past (if organic abundances are well preserved). Despite their relevance to planetary modeling and exploration, organic reactions remain poorly characterized under geochemically relevant conditions, especially in terms of their reaction kinetics, mechanisms, and equilibria.

In order to better understand organic transformations in natural systems, the reactivities of oxygen- and nitrogen-bearing organic functional groups were investigated under experimental hydrothermal conditions, at 250°C and 40 bar. The model compounds benzylamine and α-methylbenzylamine were used as analogs to environmentally relevant amines, ultimately elucidating two dominant deamination mechanisms for benzylamine, SN1 and SN2, and a single SN1 mechanism for deamination of α-methylbenzylamine. The presence of unimolecular and bimolecular mechanisms has implications for temperature dependent kinetics, indicating that Arrhenius rate extrapolation is currently unreliable for deamination.

Hydrothermal experiments with benzyl alcohol, benzylamine, dibenzylamine, or tribenzylamine as the starting material indicate that substitution reactions between these compounds (and others) are reversible and approach metastable equilibrium after 72 hours. These findings suggest that relative ratios of organic compounds capable of substitution reactions could be targeted as tracers of inaccessible geochemical conditions.

Metastable equilibria for organic reactions were investigated in a natural low-temperature serpentinizing continental system. Serpentinization is a water-rock reaction which generates hyperalkaline, reducing conditions. Thermodynamic calculations were performed for reactions between dissolved inorganic carbon and hydrogen to produce methane, formate, and acetate. Quantifying conditions that satisfy equilibrium for these reactions allows subsurface conditions to be predicted. These calculations also lead to hypotheses regarding active microbial processes during serpentinization.

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Date Created
2017

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The Possible Photochemical Origins of Banded Iron Formations

Description

Banded iron formations (BIFs) are among the earliest possible indicators for oxidation of the Archean biosphere. However, the origin of BIFs remains debated. Proposed formation mechanisms include oxidation of Fe(II) by O2 (Cloud, 1973), photoferrotrophy (Konhauser et al., 2002), and

Banded iron formations (BIFs) are among the earliest possible indicators for oxidation of the Archean biosphere. However, the origin of BIFs remains debated. Proposed formation mechanisms include oxidation of Fe(II) by O2 (Cloud, 1973), photoferrotrophy (Konhauser et al., 2002), and abiotic UV photooxidation (Braterman et al., 1983; Konhauser et al., 2007). Resolving this debate could help determine whether BIFs are really indicators of O2, biological activity, or neither.

To examine the viability of abiotic UV photooxidation of Fe, laboratory experiments were conducted in which Fe-bearing solutions were irradiated with different regions of the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum and Fe oxidation and precipitation were measured. The goal was to revisit previous experiments that obtained conflicting results, and extend these experiments by using a realistic bicarbonate buffered solution and a xenon (Xe) lamp to better match the solar spectrum and light intensity.

In experiments reexamining previous work, Fe photooxidation and precipitation was observed. Using a series of wavelength cut-off filters, the reaction was determined not to be caused by light > 345 nm. Experiments using a bicarbonate buffered solution, simulating natural waters, and using unbuffered solutions, as in prior work showed the same wavelength sensitivity. In an experiment with a Xe lamp and realistic concentrations of Archean [Fe(II)], Fe precipitation was observed in hours, demonstrating the ability for photooxidation to occur significantly in a simulated natural setting.

These results lead to modeled Fe photooxidation rates of 25 mg Fe cm-2 yr-1—near the low end of published BIF deposition rates, which range from 9 mg Fe cm-2 yr-1 to as high as 254 mg Fe cm-2 yr-1 (Konhauser et al., 2002; Trendall and Blockley, 1970). Because the rates are on the edge and the model has unquantified, favorable assumptions, these results suggest that photooxidation could contribute to, but might not be completely responsible for, large rapidly deposited BIFs such those in the Hamersley Basin. Further work is needed to improve the model and test photooxidation with other solution components. Though possibly unable to fully explain BIFs, UV light has significant oxidizing power, so the importance of photooxidation in the Archean as an environmental process and its impact on paleoredox proxies need to be determined.

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Date Created
2017

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Thermodynamic Cartography in Basalt-Hosted Hydrothermal Systems

Description

Mantle derived basalts along the entirety of the Earth’s Mid-Ocean Ridge (MOR) spreading centers are continuously altered by seawater, allowing the hydrosphere to subsume energy and exchange mass with the deep, slowly cooling Earth. Compositional heterogeneities inherent to these basalts—the

Mantle derived basalts along the entirety of the Earth’s Mid-Ocean Ridge (MOR) spreading centers are continuously altered by seawater, allowing the hydrosphere to subsume energy and exchange mass with the deep, slowly cooling Earth. Compositional heterogeneities inherent to these basalts—the result of innumerable geophysical and geochemical processes in the mantel and crust—generate spatial variation in the equilibrium states toward which these water-rock environments cascade. This alteration results in a unique distribution of precipitate assemblages, hydrothermal fluid chemistries, and energetic landscapes among ecosystems rooted within and above the seafloor. The equilibrium states for the full range of basalt compositional heterogeneity present today are calculated over all appropriate temperatures and extents of reaction with seawater, along with the non-equilibrium mixtures generated when hydrothermal fluids mix back into seawater. These mixes support ancient and diverse ecosystems fed not by the energy of the sun, but by the geochemical energy of the Earth. Facilitated by novel, high throughout code, this effort has yielded a high-resolution compositional database that is mapped back onto all ridge systems. By resolving the chemical and energetic consequences of basalt-seawater interaction to sub-ridge scales, alteration features that are globally homogeneous can be distinguished from those that are locally unique, guiding future field observations with testable geochemical and biochemical predictions.

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Date Created
2020