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Research Highlights

Microbes and Moqui Marbles

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20120815geology_SMMicrobes helped form Moqui marbles, unusual balls of rock found in southwestern U.S. sandstone, roughly 2 million years ago. That discovery by UNL geomicrobiologist Karrie Weber and colleagues has implications for finding life on Mars and for better understanding Earth’s past. Moqui marbles have a soft, sandy interior and a hard, round shell made of iron oxide. Weber learned that microorganisms feeding on a mineral rich in iron carbonite began the process that created the marbles, which range in size from BBs to cannonballs. Knowing that life could persist in this type of rocky, iron-rich environment provides a guide for searching for life elsewhere on Earth, or even on Mars, where similar structures have been found. Weber’s team included UNL geoscientists Richard Kettler and David Loope, Othmer Schultz Professor of Stratigraphy, and researchers at the University of Western Australia. This research was featured on the cover of the journal Geology.

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