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.

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

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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