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Biosignature Preservation Aided by Organic-Cation Interactions in Proterozoic Tidal Environments

Moore, Kelsey R. and Present, Theodore M. and Pavia, Frank and Grotzinger, John P. and Hollis, Joseph Razzell and Sharma, Sunanda and Flannery, David and Bosak, Tanja and Tuite, Michael and Knoll, Andrew H. and Williford, Kenneth (2022) Biosignature Preservation Aided by Organic-Cation Interactions in Proterozoic Tidal Environments. PALAIOS, 37 (9). pp. 486-498. ISSN 1938-5323. doi:10.2110/palo.2022.017.

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The preservation of organic biosignatures during the Proterozoic Eon required specific taphonomic windows that could entomb organic matter to preserve amorphous kerogen and even microbial body fossils before they could be extensively degraded. Some of the best examples of such preservation are found in early diagenetic chert that formed in peritidal environments. This chert contains discrete domains of amorphous kerogen and sometimes kerogenous microbial mat structures and microbial body fossils. Our understanding of how these exquisite microfossils were preserved and the balance between organic degradation and mineral formation has remained incomplete. Here, we present new insights into organic preservation in Proterozoic peritidal environments facilitated through interactions among organic matter, cations, and silica. Organic matter from Proterozoic peritidal environments is not preserved by micro- or cryptocrystalline quartz alone. Rather, preservation includes cation-rich nanoscopic phases containing magnesium, calcium, silica, and aluminum that pre-date chert emplacement and may provide nucleation sites for silica deposition and enable further chert development. Using scanning electron microscopy and elemental mapping with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, we identify cation enrichment in Proterozoic organic matter and cation-rich nanoscopic phases that pre-date chert. We pair these analyses with precipitation experiments to investigate the role of cations in the precipitation of silica from seawater. Our findings suggest that organic preservation in peritidal environments required rapid formation of nanoscopic mineral phases through the interactions of organic matter with seawater. These organic-cation interactions likely laid the initial foundation for the preservation and entombment of biosignatures, paving the way for the development of the fossiliferous chert that now contains these biosignatures and preserves a record of Proterozoic life.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Moore, Kelsey R.0000-0002-4905-9623
Present, Theodore M.0000-0002-4747-2174
Pavia, Frank0000-0003-3627-0179
Grotzinger, John P.0000-0001-9324-1257
Hollis, Joseph Razzell0000-0002-6239-694X
Sharma, Sunanda0000-0001-8822-7960
Flannery, David0000-0001-8982-496X
Bosak, Tanja0000-0001-5179-5323
Tuite, Michael0000-0002-7352-4556
Knoll, Andrew H.0000-0003-1308-8585
Williford, Kenneth0000-0003-0633-408X
Additional Information:We thank the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, for funding. The research was carried out, in part, at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004). We also thank the Simons Foundation for funding through the Simons Collaboration on the Origins of Life to JPG and TB. Additional thanks to D. Hutkin for support. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful questions, comments, and suggestions.
Group:Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Simons FoundationUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:9
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20221207-388489200.4
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:118261
Deposited By: Research Services Depository
Deposited On:10 Jan 2023 23:09
Last Modified:28 Feb 2023 17:32

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