Microbial diversity and iron oxidation at Okuoku-hachikurou Onsen, a Japanese hot spring analog of Precambrian iron formations

L. M. Ward, A. Idei, S. Terajima, T. Kakegawa, W. W. Fischer, S. E. McGlynn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Banded iron formations (BIFs) are rock deposits common in the Archean and Paleoproterozoic (and regionally Neoproterozoic) sedimentary successions. Multiple hypotheses for their deposition exist, principally invoking the precipitation of iron via the metabolic activities of oxygenic, photoferrotrophic, and/or aerobic iron-oxidizing bacteria. Some isolated environments support chemistry and mineralogy analogous to processes involved in BIF deposition, and their study can aid in untangling the factors that lead to iron precipitation. One such process analog system occurs at Okuoku-hachikurou (OHK) Onsen in Akita Prefecture, Japan. OHK is an iron- and CO2-rich, circumneutral hot spring that produces a range of precipitated mineral textures containing fine laminae of aragonite and iron oxides that resemble BIF fabrics. Here, we have performed 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing of microbial communities across the range of microenvironments in OHK to describe the microbial diversity present and to gain insight into the cycling of iron, oxygen, and carbon in this ecosystem. These analyses suggest that productivity at OHK is based on aerobic iron-oxidizing Gallionellaceae. In contrast to other BIF analog sites, Cyanobacteria, anoxygenic phototrophs, and iron-reducing micro-organisms are present at only low abundances. These observations support a hypothesis where low growth yields and the high stoichiometry of iron oxidized per carbon fixed by aerobic iron-oxidizing chemoautotrophs like Gallionellaceae result in accumulation of iron oxide phases without stoichiometric buildup of organic matter. This system supports little dissimilatory iron reduction, further setting OHK apart from other process analog sites where iron oxidation is primarily driven by phototrophic organisms. This positions OHK as a study area where the controls on primary productivity in iron-rich environments can be further elucidated. When compared with geological data, the metabolisms and mineralogy at OHK are most similar to specific BIF occurrences deposited after the Great Oxygenation Event, and generally discordant with those that accumulated before it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)817-835
Number of pages19
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Nov


  • Gallionella
  • Proterozoic
  • banded iron formation
  • iron metabolism
  • lithotrophy
  • photoferrotrophy
  • thermophile

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Microbial diversity and iron oxidation at Okuoku-hachikurou Onsen, a Japanese hot spring analog of Precambrian iron formations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this