Microorganisms created tiny tunnels inside garnet, study reports

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 2 years ago

Microscopic tunnels uncovered inside garnet crystals from Thailand likely came from microorganisms, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE reports.

This study first came about after a team of international researchers discovered a series of strange tunnels deep within garnet crystals taken from river sediments and soils in Thailand. Though they first wrote off the strange passages, further analysis showed that they could have been created by endolithic organisms.

Such creatures live inside a substrate, including mineral, wood, or bone, and tunnel through it. Though some microbes already exist within cavities, others must dig their way in. That digging process has been recorded many times throughout history, but never in a durable mineral like garnet.

“The reported tunnel system in garnets represents a new endolithic habitat in a hard silicate mineral otherwise known to be resistant to abrasion and chemical attack,” said lead author Magnus Ivarsson, a geobiologist at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, according to Phys.org.

As a result, the team took a close look at the stone to see if the corridors formed through an abiotic or biotic processes.

That study showed the tunnels had lingering organic compounds and filament-like structures, suggesting microbes once lived there.

However, even with that information the team is not sure what made the tunnels. That is because, while the passages have certain abiotic characteristics, they have various endolithic features as well. For example, there is a series of connecting tunnels, which shows that microbes at least played a part in the tunneling process.

While researchers only first took notice of the tunnels because they significantly decrease the quality and value of the garnet, they are not important because they show a never-before-seen habitat for endolithic organisms.

Even so, as compelling as the findings are, they are far from conclusive. More research needs to be done on the stone to see if any more information can be gathered moving forward.  

“There’s definitely work to be done,” added Ivarsson, according to The New York Times.