Infoscience

Conference paper

In situ identification and X-ray imaging of microorganisms distribution on the Tatahouine meteorite

Microorganisms were searched for among the complex microstructures observed on the surface of a fragment of the Tatahouine meteorite inherited from the Tunisian soil in which they were buried. In this view, the chemical compositions, particularly the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulphur compositions, including the sulphur speciation, were investigated using scanning electron microscopy (SEM), electron probe microanalysis (EPMA) mapping, and scanning X-ray microscopy (SXM). A few 2-mum-thick filaments, partly covered by patches of calcite ensuring they were not deposited by a laboratory contamination, were observed by SEM. The EPMA maps show that the portions free of calcite of the filaments have low but constant contents of nitrogen, sulphur, and phosphorus. The SXM maps were recorded at 2473.5, 2478 and 2482.2eV, which are respectively characteristic for amino acid-linked sulphur, sulphite (SO32-), and sulphate (SO42-). The portions of the filaments detected by EPMA are also those that are enriched in amino acid linked sulphur. The calculated (N/S) elemental ratio is consistent with the one of the dehydrated Escherichia coli matter, contrary to the much lower (P/S) elemental ratio. In living cells, the bulk N and S elements are mainly located in large polymers by covalent bonds, whereas a significant amount of P belongs to small and reactive molecules. We thus can propose that the observed microstructures are dehydrated micro organisms, in which most of the elements that were composing the polymers were retained, whereas the small electrolytes and molecules were removed. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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