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Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta

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A new route for the formation of gammacerane from tetmhymanol is proposed; in addition to dehydration and hydrogenation, sulphurisation and early C-S cleavage are shown to be important in the pathway of formation, especially in marine sediments. Evidence is twofold. First, relatively large amounts of the gammacerane skeleton are sequestered in S-rich macromolecular aggregates formed by natural sulphurisation of functionalised lipids. Selective cleavage of polysulphide linkages with MeLi/MeI led to formation of 3-methylthiogammacerane, indicating that the gammacerane skeleton is primarily bound via sulphur at position 3, consistent with the idea that tetrahymanol (or the corresponding ketone) is the precursor for garnmacerane. Second, upon mild artificial maturation of two sediments using hydrous pyrolysis, gamrnacerane is released from S-rich macromolecular aggregates by cleavage of the relatively weak C-S bonds. The stable carbon isotopic compositions of gammacerane and lipids derived from primary producers and green sulphur bacteria in both the Miocene Gessoso-solfifera and Upper Jurassic Allggu Formations indicate that gammacerane is derived from bacterivorous ciliates which were partially feeding on green sulphur bacteria. This demonstrates that anaerobic ciliates living at or below the chemocline are important sources for gammacerane, consistent with the fact that ciliates only biosynthesize tetrahymanol if their diet is deprived of sterols. This leads to the conclusion that gammacerane is an indicator for water column stratification, which solves two current enigmas in gammacerane geochemistry. Firstly, it explains why gammacerane is often found in sediments deposited under hypersaline conditions but is not necessarily restricted to this type of deposits. Secondly, it explains why lacustrine deposits may contain abundant gammacerane since most lakes in the temperate climatic zones are stratified during summer.