2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 55-8
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM


O'REILLY, Shane S., Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02142, oreillys@mit.edu

Ooids are concentrically laminated carbonate grains, occurring in a limited number of modern shallow marine and lacustrine settings. Oolitic sedimentary rocks (oolite) are common in the geological record, particularly in the Precambrian, and subsequent to some mass extinction events. Despite their significance, controversy remains about processes that form and shape ooids. Abiotic models typically favour carbonate precipitation in suspension in supersaturated, agitated water while biotic models emphasise microbial benthic contribution to ooid carbonate precipitation in relatively low turbulence waters. While various interpretations of ooids in the geological record have been made, the ongoing formation debate, together with post-depositional diagenesis, hinders our ability to interpret and utilize ooids to reconstruct Earth’s past environments and biodiversity. Recently, Neoproterozoic oolitic carbonates have been shown to preserve C-isotopic records of environmental change and carbon cycle anomalies. This prompts the question whether molecular organic biosignatures can be found in well-preserved oolite. Here, lipid biomarker analysis and Illumina sequencing of modern ooids at Pigeon Cay, the Bahamas, revealed colonization of ooids by biofim-producing α-proteobacteria and diatoms, sulfate-reducing bacteria, anoxygenic phototrophs, as well as some cyanobacteria, in calm waters adjacent to the surf zone. These were comparable to communities associated with microbially-cemented grapestones. Relict lipids bound within ooid carbonate were also dominated by bacterial fatty acids, hydroxy acids and hopanoids. This indicates that a common, bacteria-dominated, microbial community is directly involved in carbonate precipitation of ooids and grapestones, likely by autotrophic metabolism and organomineralization of biofilms. Analysis of oolites as old as Jurassic in age revealed the preservation of hydrocarbons, as well as appreciable amounts of fatty acids, and emphasises the potential utility of oolites to preserve organic biosignatures. Further comparison of biomarkers from ooids from different environmental conditions and preservation state will provide insight into syngenetic molecular signals of environmental conditions and biological diversity in ancient oolite.