Published in Proceedings of Symposium V on Materials Synthesis Based on Biological Processes, Volume 218, Fall October 1, 1991, pages 93-108. Copyright © 1991 Materials Research Society. The definitive version is available at http://www.mrs.org/s_mrs/sec_subscribe.asp?CID=12013&DID=310250&action=detail.
Several species of aquatic bacteria are known to exploit the earth's geomagnetic field as a means of directing their motion towards suitable habitats. A feature common to these bacteria is the presence of discrete intracellular magnetic inclusions, magnetosomes, aligned in chains along the long axis of the organism. The size and orientation of the individual magnetic particles imparts a permanent magnetic dipole moment to the cell which is, in turn, responsible for the magnetotactic response. In all species examined to date the magnetic particles have been found to be well-ordered, single domain, membrane-bounded crystals with reproducible, species-specific morphologies. Until recently, however, only crystals of the mixed valence iron oxide, magnetite (Fe3O4), were identified in these magnetotactic bacteria. We have now identified three species of bacteria from sulphidic environments which contain crystals of the mixed valence ferrimagnetic iron sulphide, greigite (Fe3S4). High resolution electron microscopical studies of the biogenic greigite crystals showed that they also exhibit the narrow size range (50-90nm) and unique crystallographic habits (e.g. cubo-octahedral, rectangular prismatic) which characterized and distinguished the inclusions in other magnetotactic species. Thus, it would appear that the bio-precipitation of iron sulphides in magnetotactic bacteria is a highly regulated process which is directed and controlled at the molecular level. These findings are not only important to our understanding of biomineralization in unicellular organisms but may also be significant to studies of paleomagnetism. Furthermore, the controlled synthesis of greigite presents an interesting challenge to material scientists and solid state chemists.