Chemical mapping of proterozoic organic matter at submicron spatial resolution

A NanoSIMS ion microprobe was used to map the submicron-scale distributions of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, silicon, and oxygen in organic microfossils and laminae in a thin section of the similar to 0.85 billion year old Bitter Springs Formation of Australia. The data provide clues about the original chemistry of the microfossils, the silicification process, and the biosignatures of specific microorganisms and microbial communities. Chemical maps of fossil unicells and filaments revealed distinct wall- and sheath-like structures enriched in C, N, and S, consistent with their accepted biological origin. Surprisingly, organic laminae, previously considered to be amorphous, also exhibited filamentous and apparently compressed spheroidal structures defined by strong enrichments in C, N, and S. By analogy to NanoSIMS data from the well-preserved microfossils, these structures were interpreted as being of biological origin, most likely representing densely packed remnants of microbial mats. Given that the preponderance of organic matter in Precambrian sediments is similarly "amorphous," our findings indicate that a re-evaluation of ancient specimens via in situ structural, chemical, and isotopic study is warranted. Our analyses have led us to propose new criteria for assessing the biogenicity of problematic kerogenous materials, and, thus, these criteria can be applied to assessments of poorly preserved or fragmentary organic residues in early Archean sediments and any that might occur in meteorites or other extraterrestrial samples.

Published in:
Astrobiology, 6, 838-850

 Record created 2012-05-15, last modified 2018-03-17

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