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Searching for biosignatures in sedimentary rocks from early Earth and Mars

Bosak, Tanja and Moore, Kelsey R. and Gong, Jian and Grotzinger, John P. (2021) Searching for biosignatures in sedimentary rocks from early Earth and Mars. Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, 2 (7). pp. 490-506. ISSN 2662-138X. doi:10.1038/s43017-021-00169-5.

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The recognition of past habitable environments on Mars has increased the urgency to understand biosignature preservation in and characterize analogues of these environments on Earth. In this Review, we examine the detection and interpretation of potential biosignatures preserved in deposits rich in carbonates, silica and clay. Many of the earliest chemical, textural and morphological evidence of life on Earth are found in carbonates and carbonate-hosted phases. Early diagenetic chert within carbonate deposits can exceptionally preserve microbial body fossils, and clay minerals that form in ultramafic terrains can protect organic matter. On Mars, similar deposits older than 3.5 billion years could contain biosignatures or remnants of prebiotic processes that have long been erased from Earth. Terrestrial analogues for the deposition of magnesium carbonate minerals in Jezero crater, Mars, present patterns that can guide the collection of samples with the highest astrobiological potential by the Perseverance rover. Continued characterization of terrestrial analogue sites and rigorous examination of the processes that impact the preservation of isotopic signals, organic compounds, and microbial textures and fossils will advance the interpretation of Martian deposits.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription ReadCube access
Bosak, Tanja0000-0001-5179-5323
Gong, Jian0000-0001-7214-1628
Grotzinger, John P.0000-0001-9324-1257
Additional Information:© 2021 Nature Publishing Group. Accepted 15 April 2021; Published 01 June 2021. The authors thank the Simons Foundation Collaboration on the Origins of Life (grants to T.B. and J.P.G.) and the NASA Mars 2020 programme. Author Contributions: T.B. wrote and edited the article. K.R.M., J.G. and J.P.G. provided comments and figures and contributed to the editing. The authors declare no competing interests. Peer review information: Nature Reviews Earth & Environment thanks Dylan Wilmeth, Martin Homann and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Subject Keywords:Astrobiology; Biogeochemistry; Sedimentology
Issue or Number:7
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20210601-131049654
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Official Citation:Bosak, T., Moore, K.R., Gong, J. et al. Searching for biosignatures in sedimentary rocks from early Earth and Mars. Nat Rev Earth Environ 2, 490–506 (2021).
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:109329
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:01 Jun 2021 20:18
Last Modified:08 Jul 2021 21:26

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