In this contribution, we investigated the chemical composition of Precambrian microfossils from the Gunflint chert (1.88 Ga) using a miniature laser ablation ionization mass spectrometer (LIMS) developed for in situ space applications. Spatially resolved mass spectrometric imaging (MSI) and depth profiling resulted in the acquisition of 68,500 mass spectra. Using single mass unit spectral decomposition and multivariate data analysis techniques, we identified the location of aggregations of microfossils and surrounding inorganic host mineral. Our results show that microfossils have unique chemical compositions that can be distinguished from the inorganic chert with high fidelity. Chemical depth profiling results also show that with LIMS microprobe data, it is possible to identify chemical differences between individual microfossils, thereby providing new insights about nature of early life. Analysis of LIMS spectra acquired from the individual microfossils reveals complex mineralization, which can reflect the metabolic diversity of the Gunflint microbiome. An intensity-based machine learning model trained on LIMS Gunflint data might be applied for the future investigations of putative microfossils from silicified matrices, where morphological integrity of investigated structures is lost, and potentially in the investigation of rocks acquired from the Martian surface.
|Journal||Journal of Chemometrics|
|Publication status||Published - Oct 2021|