Geological factors impacted cadmium availability and use as an alternative cofactor for zinc in the carbon fixation pathways of marine diatoms


Transition metal cofactors are crucial for many biological processes. Despite being primarily considered to be toxic, the transition metal cadmium (Cd) was discovered to be a substitute for zinc (Zn) in photosynthetic carbon fixation pathways in marine diatoms. However, it is not known how conditions in the geosphere impacted Cd availability and its incorporation as an alternative metal cofactor for phytoplankton. We employed mineral chemistry network analysis to investigate which geochemical factors may have influenced the availability of Cd and Zn during the putative time period that alternative Cd-based pathway evolved. Our results show that Zn minerals are more chemically diverse than are Cd minerals, but Zn- and Cd-containing minerals have similar mean electronegativities when specifically considering sulfur (S)-containing species. Cadmium and zinc sulfides are the most common Cd- and Zn-containing mineral species over the past 500 million years. In particular, the Cd and Zn sulfides, respectively greenockite and sphalerite, are highly abundant during this time period. Furthermore, S-containing Cd- and Zn minerals are commonly co-located in geologic time, allowing them to be weathered and transported to the ocean in tandem, rather than occurring from separate sources. We suggest that the simultaneous weathering of Cd and Zn sulfides allowed for Cd to be a bioavailable direct substitute for Zn in protein complexes during periods of Zn depletion. The biogeochemical cycles of Zn and Cd exemplify the importance of the coevolution of the geosphere and biosphere in shaping primary production in the modern ocean.

Earth and Space Science Open Archive