Opendata, web and dolomites


Tracing ancient microbial cells embedded in silica

Total Cost €


EC-Contrib. €






 TRACES project word cloud

Explore the words cloud of the TRACES project. It provides you a very rough idea of what is the project "TRACES" about.

basis    alteration    critically    morphologic    structural    microstructures    pressures    microbial    microfossils    cherts    true    incorporated    microorganism    entombment    tracing    composition    rapid    precipitation    biomorphs    determined    types    transformation    preservation    degradation    altered    deposits    combined    lack    certain    nano    depends    rare    coatings    hot    ancient    distinguished    earth    artificial    fossilized    sufficient    deep    causing    oceans    time    metamorphosed    difficult    silicification    reconstructing    thermal    rock    chert    carbon    sinters    artefacts    diagenetic    spring    differences    cell    complexity    structure    structures    answered    life    superbly    adsorbed    supersaturated    mineral    micron    matrices    silica    encountered    botryoidal    transformations    cells    walls    microorganisms    monitored    trace    groups    dominated    history    microfossil    scientific    subjected    preserved    obstacles    solid    question    temperatures    experiments    nature    model    oldest    organic    abiologic    traces    record    incremental    critical    generate    quartz    progressively    opal    habitat    habitats    easily    sub    representative    back    hydrothermal    precambrian    dynamic    matrix   

Project "TRACES" data sheet

The following table provides information about the project.


Organization address
address: RUE JUSSIEU 1
city: PARIS
postcode: 75238

contact info
title: n.a.
name: n.a.
surname: n.a.
function: n.a.
email: n.a.
telephone: n.a.
fax: n.a.

 Coordinator Country France [FR]
 Total cost 1˙999˙250 €
 EC max contribution 1˙999˙250 € (100%)
 Programme 1. H2020-EU.1.1. (EXCELLENT SCIENCE - European Research Council (ERC))
 Code Call ERC-2014-CoG
 Funding Scheme ERC-COG
 Starting year 2015
 Duration (year-month-day) from 2015-05-01   to  2020-09-30


Take a look of project's partnership.

# participants  country  role  EC contrib. [€] 
1    INSTITUT DE PHYSIQUE DU GLOBE DE PARIS FR (PARIS) coordinator 1˙999˙250.00


 Project objective

Reconstructing the nature and habitat of early life is a difficult task that strongly depends on the study of rare microfossils in the ancient rock record. The preservation of such organic structures critically depends on rapid entombment in a mineral matrix. Throughout most of Earth’s history the oceans were silica-supersaturated, leading to precipitation of opal deposits that incorporated superbly preserved microbial cells. As we trace this record of life back in deep time, however, three important obstacles are encountered; 1) microorganisms lack sufficient morphologic complexity to be easily distinguished from each other and from certain abiologic microstructures, 2) the ancient rock record has been subjected to increased pressures and temperatures causing variable degradation of different types of microorganism, and 3) early habitats of life were dominated by hydrothermal processes that can generate abiologic organic microstructures. TRACES will study the critical transformations that occur when representative groups of microorganisms are subjected to artificial silicification and thermal alteration. At incremental steps during these experiments the (sub)micron-scale changes in structure and composition of organic cell walls are monitored. This will be compared with fossilized life in diagenetic hot spring sinters and metamorphosed Precambrian chert deposits. The combined work will lead to a dynamic model for microfossil transformation in progressively altered silica-matrices. The critical question will be answered whether certain types of microorganisms are more likely to be preserved than others. In addition, the critical nano-scale structural differences will be determined between abiologic artefacts – such as carbon coatings on botryoidal quartz or adsorbed carbon on silica biomorphs – and true microfossils in hydrothermal cherts. This will provide a solid scientific basis for tracing life in the oldest, most altered part of the rock record.


year authors and title journal last update
List of publications.
2019 Joti Rouillard, Juan Manuel García-Ruiz, Linda Kah, Emmanuelle Gérard, Laurie Barrier, Sami Nabhan, Jian Gong, Mark A. Zuilen
Identifying microbial life in rocks: Insights from population morphometry
published pages: , ISSN: 1472-4677, DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12377
Geobiology 2020-01-29
2018 Martin Homann, Pierre Sansjofre, Mark Van Zuilen, Christoph Heubeck, Jian Gong, Bryan Killingsworth, Ian S. Foster, Alessandro Airo, Martin J. Van Kranendonk, Magali Ader, Stefan V. Lalonde
Microbial life and biogeochemical cycling on land 3,220 million years ago
published pages: 665-671, ISSN: 1752-0894, DOI: 10.1038/s41561-018-0190-9
Nature Geoscience 11/9 2020-01-29
2018 Mark A. van Zuilen
Proposed early signs of life not set in stone
published pages: 190-191, ISSN: 0028-0836, DOI: 10.1038/d41586-018-06994-x
Nature 563/7730 2020-01-29
2020 Jian Gong, Kimberly D. Myers, Carolina Munoz-Saez, Martin Homann, Joti Rouillard, Richard Wirth, Anja Schreiber, Mark A. van Zuilen
Formation and Preservation of Microbial Palisade Fabric in Silica Deposits from El Tatio, Chile
published pages: , ISSN: 1531-1074, DOI: 10.1089/ast.2019.2025
Astrobiology 20 2020-01-29
2019 Yuangao Qu, Nicola McLoughlin, Mark. A. van Zuilen, Martin Whitehouse, Anders Engdahl, Vivi Vajda
Evidence for molecular structural variations in the cytoarchitectures of a Jurassic plant
published pages: 325-329, ISSN: 0091-7613, DOI: 10.1130/g45725.1
Geology 47/4 2020-01-29
2017 Suemeyya Eroglu, Mark A. van Zuilen, Heinrich Taubald, Kerstin Drost, Martin Wille, Elizabeth D. Swanner, Nicolas J. Beukes, Ronny Schoenberg
Depth-dependent δ 13 C trends in platform and slope settings of the Campbellrand-Malmani carbonate platform and possible implications for Early Earth oxygenation
published pages: 122-139, ISSN: 0301-9268, DOI: 10.1016/j.precamres.2017.09.018
Precambrian Research 302 2019-11-06
2018 J. Rouillard, J.-M. García-Ruiz, J. Gong, M. A. van Zuilen
A morphogram for silica-witherite biomorphs and its application to microfossil identification in the early earth rock record
published pages: 279-296, ISSN: 1472-4677, DOI: 10.1111/gbi.12278
Geobiology 16 2019-11-06

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