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Proceedings Paper

Microfossils of cyanobacteria in carbonaceous meteorites
Author(s): Richard B. Hoover
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Paper Abstract

During the past decade, Environmental and Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscopes have been used at the NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center to investigate freshly fractured interior surfaces of a large number of different types of meteorites. Large, complex, microfossils with clearly recognizable biological affinities have been found embedded in several carbonaceous meteorites. Similar forms were notably absent in all stony and nickel-iron meteorites investigated. The forms encountered are consistent in size and morphology with morphotypes of known genera of Cyanobacteria and microorganisms that are typically encountered in associated benthic prokaryotic mats. Even though many coccoidal and isodiametric filamentous cyanobacteria have a strong morphological convergence with some other spherical and filamentous bacteria and algae, many genera of heteropolar cyanobacteria have distinctive apical and basal regions and cellular differentiation that makes it possible to unambiguously recognize the forms based entirely upon cellular dimensions, filament size and distinctive morphological characteristics. For almost two centuries, these morphological characteristics have historically provided the basis for the systematics and taxonomy of cyanobacteria. This paper presents ESEM and FESEM images of embedded filaments and thick mats found in-situ in the Murchison CM2 and Orgueil CI1 carbonaceous meteorites. Comparative images are also provided for known genera and species of cyanobacteria and other microbial extremophiles. Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) indicates that the meteorite filaments typically exhibit dramatic chemical differentiation with distinctive difference between the possible microfossil and the meteorite matrix in the immediate proximity. Chemical differentiation is also observed within these microstructures with many of the permineralized filaments enveloped within electron transparent carbonaceous sheaths. Elemental distributions of these embedded filaments are not consistent with recent cyanobacteria or other living or preserved microbial extremophiles that have been investigated during this research. The meteorite filaments often have a nitrogen content below the sensitivity level of the EDS detector. Carbon, Sulfur, Iron or Silicon is often highly enriched and hence anomalous C/N and C/S ratios when compared with modern cyanobacteria. The meteorite forms that are unambiguously recognizable as biological filaments are interpreted as indigenous microfossils analogous to several known genera of modern cyanobacteria and associated trichomic filamentous prokaryotes.

Paper Details

Date Published: 3 October 2007
PDF: 18 pages
Proc. SPIE 6694, Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology X, 669408 (3 October 2007); doi: 10.1117/12.742284
Show Author Affiliations
Richard B. Hoover, NASA Marshall Space Flight Ctr. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 6694:
Instruments, Methods, and Missions for Astrobiology X
Richard B. Hoover; Gilbert V. Levin; Alexei Y. Rozanov; Paul C. W. Davies, Editor(s)

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