Share Email Print
cover

Proceedings Paper

Mineralized remains of morphotypes of filamentous cyanobacteria in carbonaceous meteorites
Author(s): Richard B. Hoover
Format Member Price Non-Member Price
PDF $14.40 $18.00

Paper Abstract

The quest for conclusive evidence of microfossils in meteorites has been elusive. Abiotic microstructures, mineral grains, and even coating artifacts may mimic unicellular bacteria, archaea and nanobacteria with simple spherical or rod morphologies (i.e., cocci, diplococci, bacilli, etc.). This is not the case for the larger and more complex microorganisms, colonies and microbial consortia and ecosystems. Microfossils of algae, cyanobacteria, and cyanobacterial and microbial mats have been recognized and described from many of the most ancient rocks on Earth. The filamentous cyanobacteria and sulphur-bacteria have very distinctive size ranges, complex and recognizable morphologies and visibly differentiated cellular microstructures. The taphonomic modes of fossilization and the life habits and processes of these microorganisms often result in distinctive chemical biosignatures associated with carbonization, silicification, calcification, phosphatization and metal-binding properties of their cell-walls, trichomes, sheaths and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). Valid biogenicity is provided by the combination of a suite of known biogenic elements (that differ from the meteorite matrix) found in direct association with recognizable and distinct biological features and microstructures (e.g., uniseriate or multiseriate filaments, trichomes, sheaths and cells of proper size/size range); specialized cells (e.g., basal or apical cells, hormogonia, akinetes, and heterocysts); and evidence of growth characteristics (e.g., spiral filaments, robust or thin sheaths, laminated sheaths, true or false branching of trichomes, tapered or uniform filaments) and evidence of locomotion (e.g. emergent cells and trichomes, coiling hormogonia, and hollow or flattened and twisted sheaths). Since 1997 we have conducted Environmental and Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopy (ESEM and FESEM) studies of freshly fractured interior surfaces of carbonaceous meteorites, terrestrial rocks, living, cryopreserved and fossilized extremophiles and cyanobacteria. These studies have resulted in the detection of mineralized remains of morphotypes of filamentous cyanobacteria, mats and consortia in many carbonaceous meteorites. These well-preserved and embedded microfossils are consistent with the size, morphology and ultra-microstructure of filamentous trichomic prokaryotes and degraded remains of microfibrils of cyanobacterial sheaths. EDAX elemental studies reveal that the forms in the meteorites often have highly carbonized sheaths in close association with permineralized filaments, trichomes, and microbial cells. The eextensive protocols and methodologies that have been developed to protect the samples from contamination and to distinguish recent contaminants from indigenous microfossils are described recent bio-contaminants. Ratios of critical bioelements (C:O, C:N, C:P, and C:S) reveal dramatic differences between microfossils in Earth rocks and meteorites and in the cells, filaments, trichomes, and hormogonia of recently living cyanobacteria. The results of comparative optical, ESEM and FESEM studies and EDAX elemental analyses of recent cyanobacteria (e.g. Calothrix, Oscillatoria, and Lyngbya) of similar size, morphology and microstructure to microfossils found embedded in the Murchison CM2 and the Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites are presented

Paper Details

Date Published: 22 September 2005
PDF: 17 pages
Proc. SPIE 5906, Astrobiology and Planetary Missions, 59060J (22 September 2005); doi: 10.1117/12.624419
Show Author Affiliations
Richard B. Hoover, NASA Marshall Space Flight Ctr. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 5906:
Astrobiology and Planetary Missions
Richard B. Hoover; Gilbert V. Levin; Alexei Yu. Rozanov; G. Randall Gladstone, Editor(s)

© SPIE. Terms of Use
Back to Top