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Title: Biogenicity and Syngeneity of Organic Matter in Ancient Sedimentary Rocks: Recent Advances in the Search for Evidence of Past Life

he past decade has seen an explosion of new technologies for assessment of biogenicity and syngeneity of carbonaceous material within sedimentary rocks. Advances have been made in techniques for analysis of in situ organic matter as well as for extracted bulk samples of soluble and insoluble (kerogen) organic fractions. The in situ techniques allow analysis of micrometer-to-sub-micrometer-scale organic residues within their host rocks and include Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy/imagery, confocal laser scanning microscopy, and forms of secondary ion/laser-based mass spectrometry, analytical transmission electron microscopy, and X-ray absorption microscopy/spectroscopy. Analyses can be made for chemical, molecular, and isotopic composition coupled with assessment of spatial relationships to surrounding minerals, veins, and fractures. The bulk analyses include improved methods for minimizing contamination and recognizing syngenetic constituents of soluble organic fractions as well as enhanced spectroscopic and pyrolytic techniques for unlocking syngenetic molecular signatures in kerogen. Together, these technologies provide vital tools for the study of some of the oldest and problematic carbonaceous residues and for advancing our understanding of the earliest stages of biological evolution on Earth and the search for evidence of life beyond Earth. We discuss each of these new technologies, emphasizing their advantages and disadvantages, applications, and likely future directions.
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Resource Type:
Journal Article
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Journal Name: Challenges, 5(2):260-283
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US)
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Country of Publication:
United States
biogenicity; syngeneity; syngenicity; biosignature; biomarker; NanoSIMS; SIMS; Raman; Archean