Astrobiology. March 27, 2008, ahead of print pgs. 215-228.
In this study, we utilized transmission electron microscopy to examine the contents of fluid inclusions in halite (NaCl) and solid halite crystals collected 650 m below the surface from the Late Permian Salado Formation in southeastern New Mexico (USA). The halite has been isolated from contaminating groundwater since deposition approximately 250 Ma ago.
We show that abundant cellulose microfibers are present in the halite and appear remarkably intact. The cellulose is in the form of 5 nm microfibers as well as composite ropes and mats, and was identified by resistance to 0.5 N NaOH treatment and susceptibility to cellulase enzyme treatment. These cellulose microfibers represent the oldest native biological macromolecules to have been directly isolated, examined biochemically, and visualized (without growth or replication) to date.
This discovery points to cellulose as an ideal macromolecular target in the search for life on other planets in our Solar System. Astrobiology 8, 215-228.