Truncated hexa-octahedral magnetite crystals in ALH84001: Presumptive biosignatures

  • Thomas-Keprta K
  • Clemett S
  • Bazylinski D
 et al. 
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McKay et al. [(1996) Science 273, 924-930] suggested that carbonate globules in the meteorite ALH84001 contained the fossil remains of Martian microbes. We have characterized a subpopulation of magnetite (Fe(3)O(4)) crystals present in abundance within the Fe-rich rims of these carbonate globules. We find these Martian magnetites to be both chemically and physically identical to terrestrial, biogenically precipitated, intracellular magnetites produced by magnetotactic bacteria strain MV-1. Specifically, both magnetite populations are single-domain and chemically pure, and exhibit a unique crystal habit we describe as truncated hexa-octahedral. There are no known reports of inorganic processes to explain the observation of truncated hexa-octahedral magnetites in a terrestrial sample. In bacteria strain MV-1 their presence is therefore likely a product of Natural Selection. Unless there is an unknown and unexplained inorganic process on Mars that is conspicuously absent on the Earth and forms truncated hexa-octahedral magnetites, we suggest that these magnetite crystals in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 were likely produced by a biogenic process. As such, these crystals are interpreted as Martian magnetofossils and constitute evidence of the oldest life yet found.

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  • K. L. Thomas-Keprta

  • S. J. Clemett

  • D. A. Bazylinski

  • J. L. Kirschvink

  • D. S. McKay

  • S. J. Wentworth

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