Finding the oldest molecular fossils of cyanobacteria

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1.64 billion years ago, a strange and toxic sea existed to the north of Australia. It hosted an ecosystem that was fundamentally different from anything observed in modern oceans. The sea harbored a broth of purple and green sulfur bacteria, while higher forms of life, such as eukaryotic algae, could not survive. We know this ecosystem because the now lithified sediments that formed at the bottom of the sea contain traces of molecular fossils (biomarkers). They are the oldest biological molecules on Earth!

Goal: In this project you will search these rocks for the first and oldest biomarker evidence for oxygen producing cyanobacteria.

Project: You will look for a new type of molecular fossil that has never been observed before. This involves growing cyanobacteria in large flasks, extracting an unusual, deep-yellow coloured bacterial pigment that can then be used as a search image to explore the 1.64 billion year old rocks.

Where: The cultivation of cyanobacteria will be done with Warwick Hillier and Gabriel James at the Research School of Biology, and the molecular fossils will be analyzed with Jochen Brocks at the Research School of Earth Sciences.

If this works, you will have a major paper as an undergrad!

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