Benthic microorganisms form highly organized communities called “biofilms.” A biofilm consists of the individual cells plus their extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). In marine and non-marine environments, benthic microbial communities interact with the physical sediment dynamics and other factors in the environment in order to survive. This interaction can produce distinctive sedimentary structures called microbialites. Binding, biostabilization, baffling, and trapping of sediment particles by microorganisms result in the formation of microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS); however, if carbonate precipitation occurs in EPS, and these processes happen in a repetitive manner, a multilayered build-up can form—stromatolites. Stromatolites and MISS are first found in the early Archean, recording highly evolved microbial activity early in Earth’s history. Whereas the stromatolites show enormous morphologic and taxonomic variation, MISS seem not to have changed in morphology since their first appearance. MISS might be the older relative, but due to the lack of well-preserved sedimentary rocks older than 3.5 billion years, the origin of both stromatolites and MISS remains uncertain.
Original Publication Citation
Noffke, N., & Awramik, S. (2013). Stromatolites and MISS—differences between relatives. GSA Today, 23(9), 4-9. doi:10.1130/GSATG187A.1
Noffke, N. and Awramik, S. M., "Stromatolites and MISS—Differences Between Relatives" (2013). OES Faculty Publications. 315.