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Astrobiology. 2010 Nov;10(9):899-920. doi: 10.1089/ast.2010.0513.

Biogenicity of morphologically diverse carbonaceous microstructures from the ca. 3400 Ma Strelley pool formation, in the Pilbara Craton, Western Australia.

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Department of Environmental Engineering and Architecture, Graduate School of Environmental Studies, Nagoya University, Nagoya, Japan.


Morphologically diverse structures that may constitute organic microfossils are reported from three remote and widely separated localities assigned to the ca. 3400 Ma Strelley Pool Formation in the Pilbara Craton, Western Australia. These localities include the Panorama, Warralong, and Goldsworthy greenstone belts. From the Panorama greenstone belt, large (> 40 μm) lenticular to spindle-like structures, spheroidal structures, and mat-forming thread-like structures are found. Similar assemblages of carbonaceous structures have been identified from the Warralong and Goldsworthy greenstone belts, though these assemblages lack the thread-like structures but contain film-like structures. All structures are syngenetic with their host sedimentary black chert, which is associated with stromatolites and evaporites. The host chert is considered to have been deposited in a shallow water environment. Rigorous assessment of biogenicity (considering composition, size range, abundance, taphonomic features, and spatial distributions) suggests that cluster-forming small (<15 μm) spheroids, lenticular to spindle-like structures, and film-like structures with small spheroids are probable microfossils. Thread-like structures are more likely fossilized fibrils of biofilm, rather than microfossils. The biogenicity of solitary large (>15 μm) spheroids and simple film-like structures is less certain. Although further investigations are required to confirm the biogenicity of carbonaceous structures from the Strelley Pool Formation, this study presents evidence for the existence of morphologically complex and large microfossils at 3400 Ma in the Pilbara Craton, which can be correlated to the contemporaneous, possible microfossils reported from South Africa. Although there is still much to be learned, they should provide us with new insights into the early evolution of life and shallow water ecosystems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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