Microorganisms from deep, high temperature sandstones: Constraints on microbial colonization

F. S. Colwell, Tullis C. Onstott, M. E. Delwiche, D. Chandler, J. K. Fredrickson, Q. J. Yao, J. P. McKinley, D. R. Boone, R. Griffiths, T. J. Phelps, D. Ringelberg, D. C. White, L. LaFreniere, D. Balkwill, R. M. Lehman, J. Konisky, P. E. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


Cores were collected from Late Cretaceous and Early Tertiary rocks in the Piceance Basin of western Colorado, USA, to investigate the origins of subsurface microorganisms under geological conditions likely to constrain microbial transport and survival. The sampled strata from 856-862. 1996- 1997 and 2091-2096 m recorded peak paleotemperatures of 120-145°C from 40- 5 million years ago while present temperatures range from 43 to 85°C. Cores were analyzed for culturable anaerobic bacteria (Fe(III)- and Mn(IV)- reducing bacteria, fermenters, sulfate reducers, nitrate reducers and methanogens), ester-linked phospholipid fatty acid and selected enzyme and physiological activities. Measurable but low biomass (total phospholipid fatty acid) and anaerobic bacteria, primarily Fe(III) reducers and fermenters, were present in samples from the 856-862 m core. Cores from greater depths yielded only a single positive enrichment arid lower biomass values. Methanogens and sulfate reducers were not detected in any of the samples her Were bacteria that could grow with methane and any added electron acceptors. 16S rRNA genes cloned from products of PCR amplification of DNA extracted from an 858 m, 65°C, Fe(III-reducing enrichment were most closely related to bacteria in the genus Desulfatomaculum. Gram-positive, spore-forming sulfate-reducing bacteria. Assuming the maximum temperatures would have eliminated any entrained bacteria, these anaerobic microorganisms likely migrated into the shallower Wasatch formation within the last 5 million years. However, the deepest stratum sampled was hydrologically isolated and, lacked any indication of microbial colonization by all biological measures. Hydrologic connection to the surface, high maximum temperatures and the presence of fractures are probably the primary factors that control distribution of microorganisms in these deep rock environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-435
Number of pages11
JournalFEMS Microbiology Reviews
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Jul 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Microbiology
  • Infectious Diseases


  • Fermenter
  • Iron- reducing bacteria
  • Microbial survival
  • Microbial transport
  • Sandstone
  • Subsurface


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