It is the great challenge of geomicrobiology to study microorganisms in the context of their environments, both in Earth’s distant past and in the present. Planet Earth and its biosphere have evolved together, and a chronicle of Earth’s ecosystems and their geochemical cycles is recorded in sedimentary rocks spanning billions of years. A relatively new and very powerful approach to read these subtle microbial and environmental signatures in ancient rocks is the study of molecular fossils, or biomarkers, within the context of the biochemistry and phylogeny of their origins.

Biomarkers are organic compounds (primarily lipids) that have particular biosynthetic origins...

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