Funding for B.C. from CNR-CNRS International Cooperation Program, for F.W. from GDR-Exobiologie grant, and for S.L.C. from NASA under award No. NNG04Gj84G and NSF under award No. GE00808211.
Fossil microbes, Vesicular pillow basalt, Microhabitat
The chilled rinds of pillow basalt from the Ampere-Coral Patch Seamounts in the eastern North Atlantic were studied as a potential habitat of microbial life. A variety of putative biogenic structures, which include filamentous and spherical microfossil-like structures, were detected in K-phillipsite-filled amygdules within the chilled rinds. The filamentous structures (similar to 2.5 mu m in diameter) occur as K-phillipsite tubules surrounded by an Fe-oxyhydroxide (lepidocrocite) rich membranous structure, whereas the spherical structures (from 4 to 2 mu m in diameter) are associated with Ti oxide (anatase) and carbonaceous matter. Several lines of evidence indicate that the microfossil-like structures in the pillow basalt are the fossilized remains of microorganisms. Possible biosignatures include the carbonaceous nature of the spherical structures, their size distributions and morphology, the presence and distribution of native fluorescence, mineralogical and chemical composition, and environmental context. When taken together, the suite of possible biosignatures supports the hypothesis that the fossil-like structures are of biological origin. The vesicular microhabitat of the rock matrix is likely to have hosted a cryptoendolithic microbial community. This study documents a variety of evidence for past microbial life in a hitherto poorly investigated and underestimated microenvironment, as represented by the amygdules in the chilled pillow basalt rinds. This kind of endolithic volcanic habitat would have been common on the early rocky planets in our Solar System, such as Earth and Mars. This study provides a framework for evaluating traces of past life in vesicular pillow basalts, regardless of whether they occur on early Earth or Mars.
Cavalazzi, B., Westall, F., Cady, S. L., Barbieri, R., & Foucher, F. (2011). Potential Fossil Endoliths in Vesicular Pillow Basalt, Coral Patch Seamount, Eastern North Atlantic Ocean. [Article]. Astrobiology, 11(7), 619-632.