The Precambrian rock record contains numerous examples of microscopic organic filaments and spheres, commonly interpreted as fossil microorganisms. Microfossils are among the oldest traces of life on Earth, making their correct identification crucial to our understanding of early evolution. Yet, spherical and filamentous microscopic objects composed of organic carbon and sulfur can form in the abiogenic reaction of sulfide with organic compounds. Termed organic biomorphs, these objects form under geochemical conditions relevant to the sulfidic environments of early Earth. Furthermore, they adopt a diversity of morphologies that closely mimic a number of microfossil examples from the Precambrian record. Here, we tested the potential for organic biomorphs to be preserved in cherts; i.e., siliceous rocks hosting abundant microbial fossils. We performed experimental silicification of the biomorphs along with the sulfur bacterium Thiothrix. We show that the original morphologies of the biomorphs are well preserved through encrustation by nano-colloidal silica, while the shapes of Thiothrix cells degrade. Sulfur diffuses from the interior of both biomorphs and Thiothrix during silicification, leaving behind empty organic envelopes. Although the organic composition of the biomorphs differs from that of Thiothrix cells, both types of objects present similar nitrogen/carbon ratios after silicification. During silicification, sulfur accumulates along the organic envelopes of the biomorphs, which may promote sulfurization and preservation through diagenesis. Organic biomorphs possessing morphological and chemical characteristics of microfossils may thus be an important component in Precambrian cherts, challenging our understanding of the early life record.

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