Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Fossilization, Process of

  • Karim BenzeraraEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_591-3


Fossilization refers to the processes leading to the preservation of traces of life in the geological record. While metazoans and single-cell eukaryotes leave undisputed traces in the geological record in the form of hard mineral parts, the fossilization of microorganisms such as Bacteria or Archaea or of viruses has long been debated due in particular to the difficulty to recognize unambiguously such fossils in old rocks. Biomineralization controlled or induced by microorganisms themselves seems to be a major process allowing preservation of cell structures and/or of organic molecules.


The three domains of life can, in principle, be preserved as microfossils, depending on the conditions of preservation and their original composition. Most fossils in the Phanerozoic are made of hard mineral parts or imprints of hard mineral parts of metazoans or eukaryote unicellular organisms (e.g., diatoms, foraminifers). However, we focus here on processes of fossilization of...


Biomineralization Diagenesis Taphonomy 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References and Further Reading

  1. Allison PA (1988) The role of anoxia in the decay and mineralization of proteinaceous macro-fossils. Paleobiology 14:139–154Google Scholar
  2. Arp G, Reimer A, Reitner J (2001) Photosynthesis-induced biofilm calcification and calcium concentrations in phanerozoic oceans. Science 292:1701–1704ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bartley JK (1996) Actualistic taphonomy of Cyanobacteria: implications for the Precambrian fossil record. Palaios 11:571–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benzerara K, Menguy N, Guyot F, De Luca G, Heulin T, Audrain C (2004a) Experimental colonization and weathering of orthopyroxenes by the pleomorphic bacteria Ramlibacter tatahouinensis. Geomicrobiol J 21:341–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benzerara K, Yoon TH, Tyliszczak T, Constantz B, Spormann AM, Brown GE Jr (2004b) Scanning transmission x-ray microscopy study of microbial calcification. Geobiology 2:249–259CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bernard S, Benzerara K, Beyssac O, Menguy N, Guyot F, Brown GE Jr, Goffé B (2007) Exceptional preservation of fossil plant spores in high-pressure metamorphic rocks. Earth Planet Sci Lett 262:257–272ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bernard S, Beyssac O, Benzerara K (2008) Raman mapping using advanced line-scanning systems: geological applications. Appl Spectrosc 62:1180–1188ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brasier MD (2005) Critical testing of earth’s oldest putative fossil assemblage from the similar to 3.5 Ga Apex chert, Chinaman creek, western Australia. Precambrian Res 140:55–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brasier M, McLoughlin N, Green O, Wacay D (2006) A fresh look at the fossil evidence for early Archaean cellular life. Phil Trans R Soc B 361:887–902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Briggs DEG, Kear AJ (1993) Fossilization of soft-tissue in the laboratory. Science 259:1439–1442ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cosmidis J, Benzerara K, Gheerbrant E, Estève I, Bouya B, Amaghzaz M (2013) Nanometer-scale characterization of exceptionally preserved bacterial fossils in Paleocene phosphorites from Ouled Abdoun (Morocco). Geobiology 11:139–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Damste JSS, Kok MD, Koster J, Schouten S (1998) Sulfurized carbohydrates: an important sedimentary sink for organic carbon? Earth Planet Sci Lett 164:7–13ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Daughney CJ, Chatellier X, Chan A, Kenward P, Fortin D, Suttle CA, Fowle DA (2004) Adsorption and precipitation of iron from seawater on a marine bacteriophage (PWH3A-P1). Mar Chem 91:101–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Deamer D, Singaram S, Rajamani S, Kompanichenko V, Guggenheim S (2006) Self-assembly processes in the prebiotic environment. Phil Trans R Soc B 361:1809–1818CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Derenne S, Robert F, Skrzypczak-Bonduelle A, Gourier D, Binet L, Rouzaud JN (2008) Molecular evidence for life in the 3.5 billion year old Warrawoona chert. Earth Planet Sci Lett 272:476–480ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ferris FG, Magalhaes E (2008) Interfacial energetics of bacterial silicification. Geomicrobiol J 25:333–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Forterre P (2006) The origin of viruses and their possible roles in major evolutionary transitions. Virus Res 117:5–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Garcia-Ruiz JM, Hyde ST, Carnerup AM, Christy AG, Van Kranendonk MJ, Welham NJ (2003) Self-assembled silica-carbonate structures and detection of ancient microfossils. Science 302:1194–1197ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grotzinger JP, Rothman DH (1996) An abiotic model for stromatolite morphogenesis. Nature 383:423–425ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jones B, Renaut RW (2007) Microstructural changes accompanying the opal-A to opal-CT transition: new evidence from the siliceous sinters of Geysir, Haukadalur, Iceland. Sedimentology 54:921–948ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaiser K, Guggenberger G (2000) The role of DOM sorption to mineral surfaces in the preservation of organic matter in soils. Org Geochem 31:711–725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lepot K, Benzerara K, Brown GE Jr, Philippot P (2008) Microbially influenced formation of 2, 724-million year-old stromatolites. Nat Geosci 1:118–121ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lepot K, Benzerara K, Brown GE Jr, Philippot P (2009a) Organic matter heterogeneity in 2.72 Ga stromatolites: alteration versus preservation by sulphur incorporation. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 73:6579–6599ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lepot K, Philippot P, Benzerara K, Wang GY (2009b) Garnet-filled trails associated with carbonaceous matter mimicking microbial filaments in Archaean basalt. Geobiology 7:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McCollom TM, Seewald JS (2007) Abiotic synthesis of organic compounds in deep-sea hydrothermal environments. Chem Rev 107:382–401CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Miot J, Benzerara K, Morin G, Kappler A, Bernard S, Obst M, Férard C, Skouri-Panet F, Guigner JM, Posth N, Galvez M, Brown GE Jr, Guyot F (2009) Iron biomineralization by neutrophilic iron-oxidizing bacteria. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 73:696–711ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Muller KJ (1985) Exceptional preservation in calcareous nodules. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 311:67–73ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Obst M, Wang J, Hitchcock AP (2009) Soft x-ray spectro-tomography study of cyanobacterial biomineral nucleation. Geobiology 7:577–591CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Oehler JH (1976) Experimental studies in Precambrian paleontology – structural and chemical changes in blue-green-algae during simulated fossilization in synthetic chert. Geol Soc Am Bull 87:117–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Oehler DZ, Robert F, Walter MR, Sugitani K, Allwood A, Meibom A, Mostefaoui S, Selo M, Thomen A, Gibson EK (2009) NanoSIMS: insights to biogenicity and syngeneity of Archaean carbonaceous structures. Precambrian Res 173:70–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Raff EC, Villinski JT, Turner FR, Donoghue PCJ, Raff RA (2006) Experimental taphonomy shows the feasibility of fossil embryos. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103:5846–5851ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Riboulleau A, Mongenot T, Baudin F, Derenne S, Largeau C (2002) Factors controlling the survival of proteinaceous material in late Tithonian kerogens (Kashpir oil shales, Russia). Org Geochem 33:1127–1130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Riding R (2002) Structure and composition of organic reefs and carbonate mud mounds: concepts and categories. Earth Sci Rev 58:163–231ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sangely L, Chaussidon M, Michels R, Brouand M, Cuney M, Huault V, Landais P (2007) Micrometer scale carbon isotopic study of bitumen associated with Athabasca uranium deposits: constraints on the genetic relationship with petroleum source-rocks and the abiogenic origin hypothesis. Earth Planet Sci Lett 258:378–396ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schopf JW, Kudryavtsev AB (2009) Confocal laser scanning microscopy and Raman imagery of ancient microscopic fossils. Precambrian Res 173:39–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Skrzypczak-Bonduelle A, Binet L, Delpoux O, Vezin H, Derenne S, Robert F, Gourier D (2008) EPR of radicals in primitive organic matter: a tool for the search of biosignatures of the most ancient traces of life. Appl Magn Reson 33:371–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Toporski JKW, Steele A, Westall F, Thomas-Keprta KL, McKay DS (2002) The simulated silicification of bacteria – new clues to the modes and timing of bacterial preservation and implications for the search for extraterrestrial microfossils. Astrobiology 2:1–26ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. van Zuilen M, Chaussidon M, Rollion-Bard C, Marty B (2007) Carbonaceous cherts of the Barberton Greenstone belt, South Africa: isotopic, chemical and structural characteristics of individual microstructures. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 71:655–669ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vandenbroucke M, Largeau C (2007) Kerogen origin, evolution and structure. Org Geochem 38:719–833CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wirth R (2009) Focused Ion Beam (FIB) combined with SEM and TEM: advanced analytical tools for studies of chemical composition, microstructure and crystal structure in geomaterials on a nanometre scale. Chem Geol 261:217–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yin LM, Zhu MY, Knoll AH, Yuan XL, Zhang JM, Hu J (2007) Doushantuo embryos preserved inside diapause egg cysts. Nature 446:661–663ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de Minéralogie et de Physique des Milieux Condensés, UMR 7590CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie & Institut de Physique du Globe de ParisParisFrance