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A Robust BiomarkerPolymers of bacterial origin, either through cell secretion or the degraded product of cell lysis, form isolated mucoidal strands as well as well-developed biofilms on interfaces. Biofilms are structurally and compositionally complex and are readily distinguishable from abiogenic films. These structures range in size from micrometers to decimeters, the latter occurring as the well-known, mineralised biofilms called stromatolites. Compositionally bacterial polymers are greater than 90 % water, with while the majority of the macromolecules forming the framework of the polymers consisting of polysaccharides (with and some nucteic acids and proteins). These macromolecules contain a vaste amount of functional groups, such as carboxyls, hydroxyls, and phosphoryls which are implicated in cation-binding. It is the elevated metal- binding capacity which provides the bacterial polymer with structural support and also helps to preserves it for up to 3.5 b.y. in the terrestrial rock record. The macromolecules, thus, can become rapidly mineralised and trapped in a mineral matrix. Through early and late diagenesis (bacterial degradation, burial, heat, pressure and time) they break down, losing the functional groups and, gradually, their hydrogen atoms. The degraded product is known as "kerogen". With further diagenesis and metamorphism, all the hydrogen atoms are lost and the carbonaceous matter becomes graphite. until the remnant carbonaceous material become graphitised. This last sentence reads a bit as if ALL these macromolecules break down and end up as graphite., but since we find 441 this is not true for all of the macromolecules. We have traced fossilised polymer and biofilms in rocks from throughout Earth's history, to rocks as old as the oldest being 3.5 b.y.-old. Furthermore, Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry has been able to identify individual macromolecules of bacterial origin, the identities of which are still being investigated, in all the samples containing fossil biofilm, including the 3.5 b.y..-old carbonaceous cherts from South Africa and Australia. As a result of the unique compositional, structural and "mineralisable" properties of bacterial polymer and biofilms, we conclude that bacterial polymers and biofilms constitute a robust and reliable biomarker for life on Earth and could be a potential biomarker for extraterrestrial life.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
Westall, F.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX United States)
Steele, A.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX United States)
Toporski, J.
(Portsmouth Univ. Portsmouth, United Kingdom)
Walsh, M. M.
(Lousiana State Univ. Baton Rouge, LA United States)
Allen, C. C.
(Lockheed Martin Corp. Houston, TX United States)
Guidry, S.
(Houston Univ. TX United States)
McKay, D. S.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX United States)
Gibson, E. K.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX United States)
Chafetz, H. S.
(Houston Univ. TX United States)
Date Acquired
August 19, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2000
Subject Category
Life Sciences (General)
Meeting Information
Astrobiology Science(Mountain View, CA)
Funding Number(s)
PROJECT: RTOP 344-50-92
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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