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A search for life in Palaeoproterozoic marine sediments using Zn isotopes and geochemistry

El Albani, A., Konhauser, K.O., Somogyi, A., Ngwalghoubou Ikouanga, J., Lamboux, A., Blichert-Toft, J., Chi Fru, E. ORCID:, Fontaine, C., Mazurier, A., Riboulleau, A., Pierson-Wickmann, A.-C. and Albarède, F. 2023. A search for life in Palaeoproterozoic marine sediments using Zn isotopes and geochemistry. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 612 , 118169. 10.1016/j.epsl.2023.118169
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Sediments from the 2.1- to 1.9-billion-year-old Francevillian Group in southeastern Gabon include centimeter-sized pyritized structures suggestive of colonial organisms (El Albani et al., 2010), some of which may have been motile (El Albani et al., 2019). However, these interpretations were largely based on morphological and geochemical characteristics that lack metabolic clues and/or can be explained by abiotic processes. To move this work forward, we describe other centimeter-sized specimens, loosely referred to as lenticular forms (LF), from the same area and apply a more holistic approach including morphology, mineralogy, and geochemistry. The objects are 0.2–4 cm in diameter, and most of them are endowed with a regular brim that scales proportionally to external diameter reminiscent of biological order, hence rendering the LF putative biogenic traces. The LF are perfectly delineated in every direction and deflect the sedimentary layers on which they rest. X-ray microtomography further demonstrates that the LF are syn-depositional features and not concretions, while lead isotope systematics indicate that the geochemical imprint of diagenesis is inconsequential. Low sulfur content is largely concentrated in the organic matrix, and scarcity of pyrite and its persistence as micron-sized crystals show that the role of sulfate reduction is minor. Most interestingly, the fillings of the LF cavities show large and correlated excesses of organic carbon and zinc, with the latter being distinctly enriched in its light isotopes. The geochemical anomalies of the fillings relative to the host rock, notably those associated with Zn, clearly were buried with the LF, and further imply biogenicity. In this regard, a ten-fold increase in LF size towards the top of the black shale series hosting the LF might be related to increasing Zn (nutrient) availability. Although we cannot conclude with any certainty what these remnant organisms were, their features all taken together are evocative of very large agglutinate protists that grazed on bacterial biomass either in the water column or as benthic mats.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0012-821X
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 2 May 2023
Date of Acceptance: 11 April 2023
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2023 13:21

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