Fungal organisms could be creating tunnels in garnets

Avatar By Karen Saltos | 2 years ago

You can find deep red garnets all over the world and they are even New York’s state gem. The stones jewelers sell must have a flawless interior, however sometimes intricate traceries of microscopic tunnels mar garnets.

Magnus Ivarsson, a geobiologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, saw these tunnels and wondered what caused them. Therefore, he and his team went to Thailand to study them.

They discovered evidence that contradicted standard geological explanations for how the cavities formed. The researchers have a new hypothesis: Maybe what is making the tunnel is alive.

It is not unheard-of for microorganisms to live in rocks. Thus, their best guess for the origins of the tunnels is at first, normal wear-and-tear on the surface of a garnet creates divots. Fungi can then colonize these hollows.

If stone is the best and closest source of particular nutrients, perhaps they use a mysterious chemical reaction to burrow deeper while harvesting sustenance as they go. “I think there’s a two-step process, a superficial weathering, and then an organism takes over,” said Dr. Ivarsson.

He is not completely convinced of this explanation yet and the team does not know whether the process occurred millions of years ago or if it occurred more recently. The next step in the study would be to take organisms from the tunnels or the nearby soil and grow them in a lab. This additional research might confirm the hypothesis.