Geological and Chemical Factors that Impacted the Biological Utilization of Cobalt in the Archean Eon

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Authors
Moore, E.
Hao, J.
Prabhu, Anirudh
Zhong, H.
Jelen, B.
Meyer, M.
Hazen, Robert
Falkowski, P.
Issue Date
2018
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Article
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The geosphere and biosphere coevolved and influenced Earth's biological and mineralogical diversity. Changing redox conditions influenced the availability of different transition metals, which are essential components in the active sites of oxidoreductases, proteins that catalyze electron transfer reactions across the tree of life. Despite its relatively low abundance in the environment, cobalt (Co) is a unique metal in biology due to its importance to a wide range of organisms as the metal center of vitamin B12 (aka cobalamin, Cbl). Cbl is vital to multiple methyltransferase enzymes involved in energetically favorable metabolic pathways. It is unclear how Co availability is linked to mineral evolution and weathering processes. Here we examine important biological functions of Co, as well as chemical and geological factors that may have influenced the utilization of Co early in the evolution of life. Only 66 natural minerals are known to contain Co as an essential element. However, Co is incorporated as a minor element in abundant rock-forming minerals, potentially representing a reliable source of Co as a trace element in marine systems due to weathering processes. We developed a mineral weathering model that indicates that dissolved Co was potentially more bioavailable in the Archean ocean under low S conditions than it is today. Mineral weathering, redox chemistry, Co complexation with nitrogen-containing organics, and hydrothermal environments were crucial in the incorporation of Co in primitive metabolic pathways. These chemical and geological characteristics of Co can inform the biological utilization of other trace metals in early forms of life.
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Moore E, Hao J, Prabhu A, Zhong H, Jelen B, Meyer M, Hazen R, and Falkowski P (2018) Geological and Chemical Factors that Impacted the Biological Utilization of Cobalt in the Archean Eon. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 123. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JG004067
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AGU
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