Characterization of Microbial Communities Hosted in Quartzofeldspathic and Serpentinite Lithologies in Jeffrey Mine, Canada

Jennifer Ronholm, Jacqueline Goordial, Haley M. Sapers, Matthew R.M. Izawa, Daniel M. Applin, Alexandra Pontefract, Christopher R. Omelon, Guillaume Lamarche-Gagnon, Edward A. Cloutis, Lyle G. Whyte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The microbial ecology and activity of serpentine deposits and associated hydrated minerals are largely unknown. Previous research has largely focused on microbial communities in active serpentinizing systems, whereas relatively little research has demonstrated the ability of serpentine deposits to host microbial communities after the cessation of serpentinization. Given the potential role of serpentinization reactions fueling primitive microbial metabolisms on early Earth and the identification of serpentine deposits on Mars, knowledge of these geobiological relationships and potential for serpentine to host extant microbial communities and preserve biosignatures is increasingly important for planetary exploration seeking signs of life. The selection of habitable sites most likely to yield putative biosignatures is crucial to mission success. In this study, we aimed to characterize, on the basis of both metabolic activity and taxonomic composition, the microbial communities hosted in two naturally co-occurring and mineralogically distinct substrates within the serpentine-rich Jeffrey Mine pit-igneous quartzofeldspathic intrusives and serpentinite. Detection of heterotrophic activity in both lithologies at 24°C, and in serpentinite at -5°C, demonstrated that each substrate had the ability to host a viable microbial community, at Mars-relevant temperatures. Targeted amplicon sequencing subsequently showed the presence of bacterial, fungal, and photosynthetic microbial communities in both substrates. Here, we have demonstrated the presence of a viable lithic microbial community within two rock types in the Jeffrey Mine and provided evidence that lithologies associated with serpentine deposits and proximal hydrated minerals have the ability to support diverse prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbial colonization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1008-1022
Number of pages15
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018


  • Asbestos
  • Astrobiology
  • Geobiology
  • Mars
  • Quartzofeldspathic
  • Serpentinite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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