Astrobiology August 2008, 8(4): 735-746.
For the foreseeable future, the search for evidence of past life in rocks acquired from other planets will be constrained by the amount of sample available and by the fidelity of preservation of any fossils present. What amount of rock is needed to establish the existence of past life? To address this question, we studied a minute amount of rock collected from cherty dolomites of the Proterozoic Buxa Formation in the metamorphically altered tectonically active northeastern Himalaya.
In particular, we investigated 2 small petrographic thin sectionsone from each of 2 bedded chert horizons exposed in the Ranjit River stratigraphic section northwest of Rishi, Sikkim, Indiathat together comprise an area of 5 cm2 (about the size of a US postage stamp) and have a total rock weight of 0.1 g. Optical microscopy, confocal laser scanning microscopy, and Raman spectroscopy and imagery demonstrate that each of the thin sections contains a rich assemblage of 3-dimensionally permineralized organic-walled microfossils. This study, the first report of Proterozoic microfossils in units of the Ranjit tectonic window, demonstrates that firm evidence of early life can be adduced from even a minuscule amount of fossil-bearing ancient rock.
Astrobiology 8, 735746.