Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils

Martin D. Brasier, Owen R. Green, Andrew P. Jephcoat, Annette K. Kleppe, Martin Van Kranendonk, John F. Lindsay, Andrew Steele, Nathalie V. Gressineau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

579 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Structures resembling remarkably preserved bacterial and cyanobacterial microfossils from ∼3,465-million-year-old Apex cherts of the Warrawoona Group in Western Australia currently provide the oldest morphological evidence for life on Earth and have been taken to support an early beginning for oxygen-producing photosynthesis. Eleven species of filamentous prokaryote, distinguished by shape and geometry, have been put forward as meeting the criteria required of authentic Archaean microfossils, and contrast with other microfossils dismissed as either unreliable or unreproducible. These structures are nearly a billion years older than putative cyanobacterial biomarkers, genomic arguments for cyanobacteria, an oxygenic atmosphere and any comparably diverse suite of microfossils. Here we report new research on the type and re-collected material, involving mapping, optical and electron microscopy, digital image analysis, micro-Raman spectroscopy and other geochemical techniques. We reinterpret the purported microfossil-like structure as secondary artefacts formed from amorphous graphite within multiple generations of metalliferous hydrothermal vein chert and volcanic glass. Although there is no support for primary biological morphology, a Fischer-Tropsch-type synthesis of carbon compounds and carbon isotopic fractionation is inferred for one of the oldest known hydrothermal systems on Earth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-81
Number of pages6
JournalNature
Volume416
Issue number6876
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 7 2002
Externally publishedYes

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Carbon
Western Australia
Graphite
Raman Spectrum Analysis
Photosynthesis
Cyanobacteria
Atmosphere
Artifacts
Glass
Veins
Electron Microscopy
Biomarkers
Oxygen
Research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Brasier, M. D., Green, O. R., Jephcoat, A. P., Kleppe, A. K., Van Kranendonk, M., Lindsay, J. F., ... Gressineau, N. V. (2002). Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils. Nature, 416(6876), 76-81. https://doi.org/10.1038/416076a

Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils. / Brasier, Martin D.; Green, Owen R.; Jephcoat, Andrew P.; Kleppe, Annette K.; Van Kranendonk, Martin; Lindsay, John F.; Steele, Andrew; Gressineau, Nathalie V.

In: Nature, Vol. 416, No. 6876, 07.03.2002, p. 76-81.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Brasier, MD, Green, OR, Jephcoat, AP, Kleppe, AK, Van Kranendonk, M, Lindsay, JF, Steele, A & Gressineau, NV 2002, 'Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils', Nature, vol. 416, no. 6876, pp. 76-81. https://doi.org/10.1038/416076a
Brasier MD, Green OR, Jephcoat AP, Kleppe AK, Van Kranendonk M, Lindsay JF et al. Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils. Nature. 2002 Mar 7;416(6876):76-81. https://doi.org/10.1038/416076a
Brasier, Martin D. ; Green, Owen R. ; Jephcoat, Andrew P. ; Kleppe, Annette K. ; Van Kranendonk, Martin ; Lindsay, John F. ; Steele, Andrew ; Gressineau, Nathalie V. / Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils. In: Nature. 2002 ; Vol. 416, No. 6876. pp. 76-81.
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