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Filamentous microfossils belonging to Cephalophytarion from the 850 Ma Bitter Springs Group have previously been used as key analogues in support of a biological interpretation for filamentous objects from the 3460 Ma Apex chert. Here we provide a new perspective on this interpretation by combining Raman data with correlative electron microscopy data from both Cephalophytarion and Apex specimens. We show that, when analysed at high spatial resolution, the Apex filaments bear no morphological resemblance to the younger Bitter Springs microfossils. Cephalophytarion filaments are shown to be cylindrical, comprising chains of box-like cells of approximately constant dimensions with lateral kerogenous walls and transverse kerogenous septa. They exhibit taphonomic shrinkage and folding, possess fine cylindrical sheaths and are permineralized by sub-micrometric quartz grains. They fulfil all established biogenicity criteria for trichomic microfossils. In contrast, Apex filaments do not possess lateral cell walls, are not cylindrical in nature, and vary considerably in diameter along their length. Their kerogenous carbon does not have a cell-like distribution and their chemistry is consistent with an origin as exfoliated phyllosilicate grains. This work demonstrates the importance of high-resolution data when interpreting the microstructure, and origins, of putative Precambrian microfossils.
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