X-ray microtomography as a tool for investigating the petrological context of Precambrian cellular remains
Keyron Hickman-Lewis, Russell J. Garwood, Philip J. Withers, David Wacey, 2017. "X-ray microtomography as a tool for investigating the petrological context of Precambrian cellular remains", Earth System Evolution and Early Life: A Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier, A. T. Brasier, D. McIlroy, N. McLoughlin
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A wide spectrum of tomographic techniques now exists for studying palaeontological specimens, but the suitability of these methods for assessing Earth’s oldest prokaryotic life has not been comprehensively investigated. We evaluated the ability of X-ray computed tomography – specifically X-ray microtomography – to reveal the morphology and petrological context of Precambrian microfossils, pseudofossils and biosedimentary structures, all of which are important in the origin and early evolution of life of Earth. The materials tested came from the Pilbara Craton of Western Australia (the 3.49 Ga Dresser Formation, the 3.46 Ga Apex chert and the 3.43 Ga Strelley Pool Formation) and the 1.88 Ga Gunflint Formation of Ontario, Canada. These units chart key developments in palaeobiology. The oldest formations contain profoundly controversial microfossil-like objects and microbially-induced sedimentary structures, whereas definitive prokaryotes are found in the youngest formations. We demonstrate that the imaging of individual microfossils and pseudofossils currently lies at the limits of the capabilities of laboratory-based X-ray microtomography and requires beneficial taphonomy. However, microtomography does provide a good overview of their petrological context at flexible spatial scales, although the quality of the data obtained from mesoscopic microbially-induced sedimentary structures and stromatolites depends largely on their style of preservation.
Supplementary material: A zipped Drishti volume for all CT scans, a 0.7z split zip file of one Drishti volume and a HDMI supplementary movie showing digital visualizations for all of the scans are available at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.58161
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This volume in memory of Professor Martin Brasier, which has many of his unfinished works, summarizes recent progress in some of the hottest topics in palaeobiology including cellular preservation of early microbial life and early evolution of macroscopic animal life, encompassing the Ediacara biota. The papers focus on how to decipher evidence for early life, which requires exceptional preservation, employment of state-of-the-art techniques and also an understanding gleaned from Phanerozoic lagerstätte and modern analogues. The papers also apply Martin’s MOFAOTYOF principle (my oldest fossils are older than your oldest fossils), requiring an integrated approach to understanding fossils. The adoption of the null-hypothesis that all putative traces of life are abiotic until proven otherwise, and the consideration of putative fossils within their spatial context, characterized the work of Martin Brasier, as is well demonstrated by the papers in this volume.