830-Million-Year-Old Microorganisms Found in Australian Halite

830-Million-Year-Old Microorganisms Found in Australian Halite

830-Million-Year-Old Microorganisms Found in Australian Halite

Scientists from West Virginia University have found ancient cells of prokaryotes and eukaryotes within fluid inclusions in halite crystals from the Neoproterozoic Browne Formation in central Australia.

“As halite crystals grow in saline surface waters, it traps parent water in primary fluid inclusions,” said Sara Schreder-Gomes and her colleagues from the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University.

“In addition to trapping parent waters, they can trap any solids that were in the water near/on the crystal face.”

“These solids include tiny crystals of evaporite minerals or organics.”

“Previous studies of modern to Permian halites have documented the presence of prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms and organic compounds including beta carotene.”

Using transmitted light petrography and UV-visible light petrography, the authors analyzed primary fluid inclusions and their contents in 830-million-year-old halite from Australia’s Browne Formation.

The halite was well preserved and allowed them to examine halite crystals from 10 halite beds from core depths between 1,481 and 1,521 m.

They found that solids trapped in fluid inclusions were consistent with prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, and with organic compounds, based on their size, shape, and fluorescent response to UV-visible light.

“There is a great range of abundance of microorganisms and organic compounds within and among individual growth bands in single crystals as well as among halite crystals from different depths in the core,” the researchers said.

“Several of the crystals used in this study have an exceptionally high concentration of microorganisms and suspect organic compounds within primary fluid inclusions.”

“For these crystals, we estimated that 40% of inclusions contained suspect microorganisms.”

“But some crystals had abundant primary inclusions yet did not contain any obvious microorganisms.”

“Some fluid inclusions contain several (10 or more) microorganisms. They typically contain both prokaryotes and eukaryotes as well as accidental daughter crystals and suspect organic compounds.”

“Primary fluid inclusions with several microorganisms were generally larger than neighboring inclusions.”

The study shows that microorganisms can be preserved in fluid inclusions in halite for millions of years and suggests that similar biosignatures may be able to be detected in chemical sediments from Mars.

“The well-preserved primary fluid inclusions in Neoproterozoic Browne Formation halite are remnants of original surface waters that hosted prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and organic compounds,” the scientists said.

“These microorganisms have been trapped since the halite precipitated 830 million years ago.”

“In that time, they have not experienced significant decomposition and are able to be optically recognized in situ.”

“Fluids inside primary inclusions serve as microhabitats for trapped microorganisms, allowing exceptional preservation of organic matter over long periods of geological time.”

“Ancient chemical sediments, both of terrestrial and extraterrestrial origin, should be considered potential hosts for ancient microorganisms and organic compounds.”

Source: Sci-news

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830-Million-Year-Old Microorganisms Found in Australian Halite

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