Chemical and mineralogical signatures of oxygenic photosynthesis in Archean and Paleoproterozoic sediments

Abstract : The evolution of oxygenic photosynthetic bacteria (OPB) is probably the most important biological event of Earth’s history since the emergence of life itself. The release of their by-product O2 in the environment, which was globally anoxic, fundamentally changed the face of the Earth and led to the development of complex life. However, the specific timing of this evolutionary step remains unclear. This study is based on the search for in situ chemical signatures of OPB at the microbial (μm) scale, within fossilized microbial photosynthetic mats in Archean and Paleoproterozoic sediments dated between 3.45 Ga and 1.88 Ga, i.e. spanning the anoxic Earth to the aftermath of the GOE. We used optical microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, SEM/EDS, EPMA, synchrotron radiation μ-XRF, and isotope analytical techniques. The μXRF results were improved by the use of a new sample preparation method and a new quantification method, both developed during this study.Results obtained by EPMA and μXRF show that, under certain depositional contexts, enrichment in lanthanides (such as Sm, La and Gd) in individual OPB cells, as well as a Cu enrichment in diagenetic pyrites formed in association with OPB, may represent chemical signatures of OPB. I propose that OPB evolved sometime between 3.33 Ga and 2.98 Ga. Also, I argue that elemental techniques such as EPMA and μ-XRF are the most suitable techniques to find chemical signatures of OPB and constrain the timing of their emergence.
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Axelle Hubert. Chemical and mineralogical signatures of oxygenic photosynthesis in Archean and Paleoproterozoic sediments. Earth Sciences. Université d'Orléans, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015ORLE2053⟩. ⟨tel-01362055⟩

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