Palaeobiology / Geobiology

Nature of Project(s):

Investigation of ancient ecosystems using molecular fossils. This involves chemical laboratory work.

Essential Background:

Either chemistry, biology, palaeobiology or sedimentary geology. EMSC8022 (Advanced Analytical Techniques) and EMSC 8024 (Foundations of Analytical Techniques and Data Science).

Background and Possible Research Avenues:

To find clues to major events of the past, the Geobiology Group at RSES studies molecular fossils of biological lipids (biomarkers) that can be preserved in sediments and sedimentary rocks. Using biomarkers, we study extremely ancient and strange ecosystems such as sulphidic oceans that existed billions of years ago and the so called Snowball Earth events when our planet froze over pole to pole. We elucidate environmental cataclysms that caused major mass extinctions and fluctuations of geochemical cycles that may have triggered the first emergence of complex life and the first animals. If you are looking for a project that combines aspects of geology, chemistry and palaeobiology, and you are interested in topics such as the origin and early evolution of life, organic chemistry or microbiology, then you can join one of our projects.

Figure from Bobrovskiy et al. Science (2018): explanation of the origin of different biomarker signals of dickinsoniid extracts. (A) Organically preserved Dickinsonia fossil (specimen 4) and surrounding impression of microbial mat; (B) schematic cross-section of the fossil, showing the position of organic matter of the microbial mat (green) and Dickinsonia (orange); (C) cross-section reconstructing the position of microbial mat and Dickinsonia immediately after burial beneath sand, highlighting the origin of the background signal in dickinsoniid extracts and explaining its variable influence depending on the size of a Dickinsonia specimen.

Bobrovskiy, I., Hope, J.M., Ivantsov, A., Nettersheim, B.J., Hallmann, C., and Brocks, J.J., 2018, Ancient steroids establish the Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia as one of the earliest animals: Science, v. 361, p. 1246,  doi:10.1126/science.aat7228.