Diversity in the archean biosphere: New insights from nanoSIMS

Dorothy Z. Oehler, François Robert, Malcolm R. Walter, Kenichiro Sugitani, Anders Meibom, Smail Mostefaoui, Everett K. Gibson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


The origin of organic microstructures in the ∼3 Ga Farrel Quartzite is controversial due to their relatively poor state of preservation, the Archean age of the cherts in which they occur, and the unusual spindle-like morphology of some of the forms. To provide more insight into the significance of these microstructures, nano-scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS) maps of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, silicon, and oxygen were obtained for spheroidal and spindle-shaped constituents of the Farrel Quartzite assemblage. Results suggest that the structures are all bona fide ∼3 Ga microfossils. The spindles demonstrate an architecture that is remarkable for 3 Ga organisms. They are relatively large, robust, and morphologically complex. The NanoSIMS element maps corroborate their complexity by demonstrating an intricate, internal network of organic material that fills many of the spindles and extends continuously from the body of these structures into their spearlike appendages. Results from this study combine with previous morphological and chemical analyses to argue that the microstructures in the Farrel Quartzite comprise a diverse assemblage of Archean microfossils. This conclusion adds to a growing body of geochemical, stromatolitic, and morphological evidence that indicates the Archean biosphere was varied and well established by at least ∼3 Ga. Together, the data paint a picture of Archean evolution that is one of early development of morphological and chemical complexity. The evidence for Archean evolutionary innovation may augur well for the possibility that primitive life on other planets could adapt to adverse conditions by ready development of diversity in form and biochemistry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-424
Number of pages12
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Archean
  • Early evolution
  • Farrel Quartzite
  • Microstructure
  • NanoSIMS
  • Organic microfossil
  • Pilbara
  • Spindle


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