Nitrogen fixation sustained productivity in the wake of the palaeoproterozoic great oxygenation event

Genming Luo, Christopher K. Junium, Gareth Izon, Shuhei Ono, Nicolas J. Beukes, Thomas J. Algeo, Ying Cui, Shucheng Xie, Roger E. Summons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The marine nitrogen cycle is dominated by redox-controlled biogeochemical processes and, therefore, is likely to have been revolutionised in response to Earth-surface oxygenation. The details, timing, and trajectory of nitrogen cycle evolution, however, remain elusive. Here we couple nitrogen and carbon isotope records from multiple drillcores through the Rooihoogte-Timeball Hill Formations from across the Carletonville area of the Kaapvaal Craton where the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE) and its aftermath are recorded. Our data reveal that aerobic nitrogen cycling, featuring metabolisms involving nitrogen oxyanions, was well established prior to the GOE and that ammonium may have dominated the dissolved nitrogen inventory. Pronounced signals of diazotrophy imply a stepwise evolution, with a temporary intermediate stage where both ammonium and nitrate may have been scarce. We suggest that the emergence of the modern nitrogen cycle, with metabolic processes that approximate their contemporary balance, was retarded by low environmental oxygen availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number978
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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