If oxygen was Batman, manganese would be its Robin hood. Every time oxygen is part of a biological reaction, you will see that in the background, manganese is helping. Photosynthesis would never happen if manganese was not around to oxidize water, and we wouldn’t age so slowly if manganese was not there to combat oxygen radicals. Manganese is so tightly associated with oxygen, that scientists use it to estimate how much oxygen is in a planet, or how much oxygen was on Earth, before photosynthesis was invented.
However, in order to use manganese as an indirect measure of oxygen in the rock record, scientists need to better understand how it transforms. Microbes increase the speed of the natural cycles of manganese. Manganese can exist in two soluble forms, manganese(II) and manganese(III), and two solid forms, manganse(III) oxides, and manganese(IV) oxides. Bacteria can breathe the oxides, transforming them into the soluble forms.
We have some clues on how bacteria breathe on manganese. But we need to know more, if we are going to make sense of the manganese records in old rocks, or other planets. In order to know more, I am trying to isolate bacteria that breathe manganese, and study who they are, which kind of manganese they prefer to breathe one, and how they do it.