Filamentous fabrics in low-temperature mineral assemblages: Are they fossil biomarkers? Implications for the search for a subsurface fossil record on the early Earth and Mars

B. A. Hofmann, Jack Farmer

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77 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The subsurface has been recognized as a possible habitat for microbial life on Mars. An analogous fossil record of subsurface life is nearly missing on Earth. Here we present evidence of the widespread occurrence of such a record: tubular filamentous structures with typical core diameters of 1-2 μm were found as inclusions in minerals deposited from low-T (<100°C) aqueous fluids in subsurface environments at > 140 localities worldwide. Filaments are frequently organized in composite structures with architectures similar to microbial mats. Filaments thickly encrusted by minerals exhibit gravity-oriented structures of macroscopic dimensions that are similar to stalactites. Environments of formation are sites of low-T water circulation in macroporous rocks such as volcanics, oxidized ores, limestone solution cavities and cavernous macrofossils. The age of occurrence ranges from Precambrian to Subrecent. We interpret the filamentous structures as permineralized and encrusted microbial filaments based on the following arguments: tubular construction of filaments with constant core diameters typical of microbes (1.5 ± 1.1 μm), coalescence of filaments to form mat-like structures, gravity draping of micron-thin filaments indicating an originally flexible consistency, and restriction to low-T mineral assemblages. These filamentous structures formed in subsurface environments are similar in size, morphology and construction to fossilized microbes observed in modern terrestrial and marine thermal springs. This newly recognized fossil record of subterranean microbial life opens up new perspectives in the study of the paleobiology of the terrestrial subsurface and in the exploration for fossil life on Mars. Potential host rocks on Mars include major nonsedimentary units such as volcanics and impactites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1077-1086
Number of pages10
JournalPlanetary and Space Science
Volume48
Issue number11
StatePublished - Sep 2000

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early Earth
biomarkers
fossils
fossil record
mars
biomarker
Mars
filaments
minerals
fossil
mineral
gravity
paleobiology
microbial mat
microorganisms
thermal spring
coalescence
host rock
volcanology
Precambrian

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics

Cite this

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abstract = "The subsurface has been recognized as a possible habitat for microbial life on Mars. An analogous fossil record of subsurface life is nearly missing on Earth. Here we present evidence of the widespread occurrence of such a record: tubular filamentous structures with typical core diameters of 1-2 μm were found as inclusions in minerals deposited from low-T (<100°C) aqueous fluids in subsurface environments at > 140 localities worldwide. Filaments are frequently organized in composite structures with architectures similar to microbial mats. Filaments thickly encrusted by minerals exhibit gravity-oriented structures of macroscopic dimensions that are similar to stalactites. Environments of formation are sites of low-T water circulation in macroporous rocks such as volcanics, oxidized ores, limestone solution cavities and cavernous macrofossils. The age of occurrence ranges from Precambrian to Subrecent. We interpret the filamentous structures as permineralized and encrusted microbial filaments based on the following arguments: tubular construction of filaments with constant core diameters typical of microbes (1.5 ± 1.1 μm), coalescence of filaments to form mat-like structures, gravity draping of micron-thin filaments indicating an originally flexible consistency, and restriction to low-T mineral assemblages. These filamentous structures formed in subsurface environments are similar in size, morphology and construction to fossilized microbes observed in modern terrestrial and marine thermal springs. This newly recognized fossil record of subterranean microbial life opens up new perspectives in the study of the paleobiology of the terrestrial subsurface and in the exploration for fossil life on Mars. Potential host rocks on Mars include major nonsedimentary units such as volcanics and impactites.",
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