J. Phys. IV France
Volume 104, March 2003
Page(s) 381 - 384

J. Phys. IV France
104 (2003) 381
DOI: 10.1051/jp4:20030104

High-resolution imaging of transition metal and sulfur-redox distribution in individual microfossils

P. Philippot1, J. Foriel1, J. Susini2, H. Khodja3, N. Grassineau4 and Y. Fouquet5

1  Laboratoire de Géosciences Marines, CNRS, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, Case 89, 4 place Jussieu, 75005 Paris, France
2  European Synchrotron Research Facility, ID21, BP. 220, 38043 Grenoble cedex, France
3  Laboratoire Pierre Süe, CEA-CNRS, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France
4  Department of Geology, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX, U.K.
5  Département de Géochimie et de Métallogénie, INFREMER, 29980 Plouzanec, France

The evidence is increasingly strong that microorganisms developing around marine hydrothermal systems (thermophilic prokaryotes) were the first living community on Earth. Owing to the delicate nature of fossil microorganisms and inherent difficulties for discriminating between true fossils from artifacts, an important challenge for microbiologists and geochemists is to extract unequivocal beogenic information from individual microfossils using high-resolution and non-destructive techniques. Here, we report sub-micron scale mapping of transition metals (Fe, Zn and Cu) and sulfur oxidation states in individual filamentous microfossils using micro- PIXE (Proton Induced X-ray Emission) and synchrotron micro-XANES (X-ray Absorption Near Edge Structure) techniques. The sample studied consists of branching iron-oxide filaments encapsulated with amorphous silica from a fragment of an inactive chimney of the East Pacific Rise. Our results suggest that the original microorganisms were actively metabolising sulfur, and show the potential of the approach used for tracking microbial markers exploiting the full range of the sulfur-redox spectrum in fossilized hydrothermal systems.

© EDP Sciences 2003