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Exceptional preservation of fossils has often been attributed to the actions of bacteria that aid in the preservation of soft tissues that normally decay rapidly. However, it is well known that fungi play a major role in organic matter decomposition, biogeochemical cycling of elements, and metal-mineral transformations in modern ecosystems. Although the fungal fossil record can be traced back over a billion years, there are only a few recorded examples of fungal roles in fossilization. In this research, we have carried out a detailed geobiological investigation on early Pleistocene hyena coprolites (fossilized dung) in an attempt to ascertain possible fungal involvement in their formation. Using an advanced microscopic and mineralogical approach, we found that numerous hydroxyapatite nanofibers (25-34 nm on average), interwoven to form spheroidal structures, constituted the matrix of the coprolites in addition to food remains. These structures were found to be extremely similar in texture and mineral composition to biominerals produced during laboratory culture of a common saprophytic and geoactive fungus, Aspergillus niger, in the presence of a solid source of calcium (Ca) and phosphorus (P). This observation, and our other data obtained, strongly suggests that fungal metabolism can provide a mechanism that can result in fossil biomineralization, and we hypothesize, therefore, that this may have contributed to the formation of well-preserved fossils (Lagerstätten) in the geological record. The characteristic polycrystalline nanofibers may also have served as a potential biosignature for fungal life in early Earth and extraterrestrial environments.
- hydroxyapatite nanofiber
- Aspergillus niger
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- 2 Finished
COG3: The Geology, Geometallurgy and Geomicrobiology of Cobalt Resources Leading to New Product Streams (joint with Natural History Museum and Universities of Manchester, Bangor, Exeter, Loughborough and Southampton and Industrial Partner)
1/05/15 → 31/03/21