Professor Jochen J. Brocks

PhD, Organic Geochemistry, University of Sydney; Diplom Chemie (~MSc Chemistry), Universität Freiburg Im Breisgau
Professor
QE-IV Fellow

Employment history

  • 2019 – cont. Professor
  • 2011 – 2019 Associate Professor
  • 2005 – 2015 QE-II Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences, THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY
  • 2004 – 2005 Research Fellow, Australian Centre For Astrobiology, MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY,
  • 2001 – 2004 Junior Fellow, Harvard Society of Fellows, Dept. of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, HARVARD UNIVERSITY 
  • 2001 – 2004 Associated Scientist, Geobiology Laboratory, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Fellowships

  • 2010 – 2014 2nd Queen-Elizabeth II Fellowship, Australian Research Council
  • 2005 – 2010 Queen-Elizabeth II Fellowship, Australian Research Council
  • 2004 – 2005 Macquarie University Research Fellow
  • 2001 – 2004 Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. The Harvard Society Fellowship is world-wide one of the most competitive and prestigious research fellowships; it offers three years of study and research as a principal investigator free of formal requirements and with priority access to all facilities at Harvard University
  • 1997 – 1998 Overseas Fellowship of the ‘Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes’
  • 1994 – 1998 Fellow of the ‘Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes’ (elite scholarship for top 1% of students)

Research interests

I like to call my field of research ‘Paleobiogeochemistry' because I am fascinated by biological processes in deep time such as the origin of life, mysterious ecosystems in Earth's earliest oceans and environmental cataclysms that may have spawned the emergence of complex life. To find clues to ancient ecosystems, I study molecular fossils of biological lipids (biomarkers) that can be preserved in sedimentary rocks for billions of years. In our laboratory at the Research School of Earth Sciences, we specialize in the detection of traces of biogenic molecules using the most sensitive techniques available.

Research Highlight 2015

The first predators emerge during the Bitter Springs Stage carbon isotope anomaly, 800 million years ago

Jochen J. Brocks and Amber J. M. Jarrett

The Neoproterozoic, 1,000 to 541 million years (Myr) ago, was the most tumultuous period in Earth history. It saw the greatest perturbations of the carbon cycle, the most massive ice ages (“Snowball Earth” events), a rise of atmospheric oxygen, the advent of animal life followed by the rampant diversification of animals in the ‘Cambrian Explosion’. The diversity of shapes and forms of single-celled eukaryotes – the ancestors of all animals, plants, protists and algae - also massively increased around 800 million years ago, and there may be links between these intriguing evolutionary events and the large carbon isotopic excursions that characterize this time.

The oldest of the Neoproterozoic excursions is the enigmatic Bitter Springs Stage Anomaly (BSSA), dated to ~825 Ma. We investigated biological and environmental changes across the Anomaly by studying redox chemistry, sedimentology and molecular fossils of a particularly well preserved section in central Australia. Over ~200 meters of carbonate stratigraphy, the BSSA records a negative carbon isotope shift from +5‰ to -4‰ and back to +5‰. The isotopes recovered to positive values when the environment changed from relatively deep, partly stratified and anoxic waters to very shallow pools surrounded by exposed land. Intriguingly, molecular fossils recovered from the deep waters of the negative excursion contain the lipid remains of anaerobic predatory eukaryotes, possibly the oldest genuine biomarker signal of modern eukaryotes in the geological record. The anaerobic predator signal diminishes at the end of the carbon perturbation and is replaced by the emergence of what we interpret as the oldest known signal of modern oxygen-breathing eukaryotes. The diversification of eukaryotic fossils around 800 million years ago has been attributed to an expansion of eukaryotic algae. However, the biomarkers that emerge at the dawn of the Bitter Springs Stage Anomaly have an unusual primitive distribution, indicating that the shallow pools were not inhabited by photosynthetic algae but by heterotrophs, organisms that consume carbon and are more akin to amoebae.

Figure 1. Amber, the PhD student whose thesis is based on this work and who made the amazing discoveries, in front of a giant stromatolite (microbial mat) of the ~825 million year old Bitter Springs Formation near Alice Springs.

Groups

Projects

  • Schinteie, R, Colangelo-Lillis, J, Hope, J et al 2019, 'Impact of drill core contamination on compound-specific carbon and hydrogen isotopic signatures', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 128, pp. 161-171.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Krasnova, A, Ivantsov, A et al 2019, 'Simple sediment rheology explains the Ediacara biota preservation', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 582-589.
  • Jarrett, A, Cox, G, Brocks, J et al 2019, 'Microbial assemblage and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the 1.38 Ga Velkerri Formation, McArthur Basin, northern Australia', Geobiology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 360-380.
  • Nettersheim, B, Brocks, J, Schwelm, A, Hope, JM, Not, F, Lomas, M, Schmidt, C, Schiebel,R,. Nowack, ECM, De Deckker, P, et al 2019, 'Putative sponge biomarkers in unicellular Rhizaria question an early rise of animals', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 3, pp. 577-581.
  • Guilbaud, R, Slater, B, Poulton, S et al 2018, 'Oxygen minimum zones in the early Cambrian ocean', Geochemical Perspectives Letters, vol. 6, pp. 33-38.
  • Adam, P, Schaeffer, P & Brocks, J 2018, 'Synthesis of 26-methyl cholestane and identification of cryostanes in mid-Neoproterozoic sediments', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 115, pp. 246-249pp.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Hope, J, Krasnova, A et al 2018, 'Molecular fossils from organically preserved Ediacara biota reveal cyanobacterial origin for Beltanelliformis', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 437-440pp.
  • Gueneli, N, McKenna, A, Ohkouchi, N et al 2018, '1.1-billion-year-old porphyrins establish a marine ecosystem dominated by bacterial primary producers', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 115, no. 30, pp. 1-9.
  • Goryl, M, Marynowski, L, Brocks, J et al 2018, 'Exceptional preservation of hopanoid and steroid biomarkers in Ediacaran sedimentary rocks of the East European CratoN', Precambrian Research, vol. 316, pp. 38-47pp.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Hope, J, Ivantsov, A et al 2018, 'Ancient steroids establish the Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia as one of the earliest animals', Science, vol. 361, no. 6408, pp. 1246-1249pp.
  • Hoffman, P, Abbot, D, Ashkenazy, Y et al 2017, 'Snowball Earth climate dynamics and Cryogenian geology-geobiology', Science Advances, vol. 3, no. 11, pp. 43pp.
  • Hoshino, Y, Poshibaeva, A, Meredith, W et al 2017, 'Cryogenian evolution of stigmasteroid biosynthesis', Science Advances, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 1-7pp.
  • Klaebe, R, Kennedy, M, Jarrett, A et al 2017, 'Local paleoenvironmental controls on the carbon-isotope record defining the Bitter Springs Anomaly', Geobiology, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 65-80pp.
  • Gallagher, T, Sheldon, N, Mauk, J et al 2017, 'Constraining the thermal history of the North American Midcontinent Rift System using carbonate clumped isotopes and organic thermal maturity indices', Precambrian Research, vol. 294, pp. 53-66pp.
  • Beghin, J, Storme, J, Blanpied, C et al 2017, 'Microfossils from the late Mesoproterozoic - early Neoproterozoic Atar/El Mreiti Group, Taoudeni Basin, Mauritania, northwestern Africa', Precambrian Research, vol. 291, pp. 63-82pp.
  • Beghin, J, Guilbaud, R, Poulton, S et al 2017, 'A palaeoecological model for the late Mesoproterozoic ? early Neoproterozoic Atar/El Mre?ti Group, Taoudeni Basin, Mauritania, northwestern Africa', Precambrian Research, vol. 299, pp. 1-14pp.
  • Schinteie, R & Brocks, J 2017, 'Paleoecology of Neoproterozoic hypersaline environments: Biomarker evidence for haloarchaea, methanogens, and cyanobacteria', Geobiology, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 641-663.
  • Brocks, J, Jarrett, A, Sirantoine, E et al 2017, 'The rise of algae in Cryogenian oceans and the emergence of animals', Nature, vol. 548, no. 7669, pp. 578-581pp.
  • Brocks, J, Jarrett, A, Sirantoine, E et al 2016, 'Early sponges and toxic protists: Possible sources of cryostane, an age diagnostic biomarker antedating Sturtian Snowball Earth', Geobiology, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 129-149pp.
  • Petrash, D, Gueneli, N, Brocks, J et al 2016, 'Black shale deposition and early diagenetic dolomite cementation during Oceanic Anoxic Event 1: The mid-Cretaceous Maracaibo Platform, Northwestern South America', American Journal of Science, vol. 316, no. 7, pp. 669-711.
  • Tully, B, Emerson, J, Andrade, K et al 2015, 'De novo sequences of haloquadratum walsbyi from Lake Tyrrell, Australia, reveal a variable genomic landscape', Archaea, vol. 2015, pp. 875784-875784.
  • French, K, Hallman, C, Hope, J et al 2015, 'Reappraisal of hydrocarbon biomarkers in Archean rocks', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 112, no. 19, pp. 5915-5920.
  • Andrade, K, Logemann, J, Heidelberg, K et al 2015, 'Metagenomic and lipid analyses reveal a diel cycle in a hypersaline microbial ecosystem', The International Society of Microbial Ecology, vol. 9, no. 12, pp. 2697-2711.
  • Holman, A, Greenwood, P, Brocks, J et al 2014, 'Effects of sulfide minerals on aromatic maturity parameters: Laboratory investigation using micro-scale sealed vessel pyrolysis', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 76, pp. 270-277.
  • Brocks, J & Hope, J 2014, 'Tailing of Chromatographic Peaks in GC-MS Caused by Interaction of Halogenated Solvents with the Ion Source', Journal of Chromatographic Science, vol. 52, no. 6, pp. 471-475.
  • Bray, P, Brocks, J & George, S 2014, '14C analysis of aliphatic hydrocarbon fractions from the hypersaline Lake Tyrrell, southeast Australia', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 73, pp. 29-34.
  • Wynn, P & Brocks, J 2014, 'A framework for the extraction and interpretation of organic molecules in speleothem carbonate', Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, vol. 28, no. 8, pp. 845-854.
  • Schinteie, R & Brocks, J 2014, 'Evidence for ancient halophiles ? Testing biomarker syngeneity of evaporites from Neoproterozoic and Cambrian strata', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 72, pp. 46-58.
  • De Deckker, P, Munday, C, Brocks, J et al 2014, 'Characterisation of the major dust storm that traversed over eastern Australia in September 2009; a multidisciplinary approach', Aeolian Research, vol. 15, pp. 133-149.
  • Pawlowska, M, Butterfield, N & Brocks, J 2013, 'Lipid taphonomy in the Proterozoic and the effect of microbial mats on biomarker preservation', Geology, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 103-106.
  • Jarrett, A, Schinteie, R, Hope, J et al 2013, 'Micro-ablation, a new technique to remove drilling fluids and other contaminants from fragmented and fissile rock material', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 61, pp. 57-65.
  • Greenwood, P, Brocks, J, Grice, K et al 2013, 'Organic geochemistry and mineralogy. I. Characterisation of organic matter associated with metal deposits', Ore Geology Reviews, vol. 50, pp. 1-27.
  • Schouten, S, Hopmans, E, Rosell-Mele, A et al 2013, 'An interlaboratory study of TEX86 and BIT analysis of sediments, extracts, and standard mixtures', Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 14, no. 12, pp. 5263-5285.
  • Smith, M, De Deckker, P, Rogers, J et al 2013, 'Comparison of U37K', TEX86H and LDI temperature proxies for reconstruction of south-east Australian ocean temperatures', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 64, pp. 94-104.
  • Narasingarao, P, Podell, S, Ugalde, J et al 2012, 'De novo metagenomic assembly reveals abundant novel major lineage of Archaea in hypersaline microbial communities', The International Society of Microbial Ecology, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 81-93.
  • Bray, P, Jones, C, Fallon, S et al 2012, 'Radiocarbon analysis of halophilic microbial lipids from an Australian salt lake', Quaternary Research, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 104-109.
  • Holman, A, Grice, K, Jaraula, C et al 2012, 'Efficiency of extraction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the Paleoproterozoic here's your chance Pb/Zn/Ag ore deposit and implications for a study of bitumen II', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 52, pp. 81-87.
  • Lee, C & Brocks, J 2011, 'Identification of carotane breakdown products in the 1.64 billion year old Barney Creek Formation, McArthur Basin, northern Australia', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 425-430.
  • Brocks, J 2011, 'Millimeter-scale concentration gradients of hydrocarbons in Archean shales: Live-oil escape or fingerprint of contamination?', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 75, no. 11, pp. 3196-3213.
  • Schinteie, R & Brocks, J 2010, 'Assessing microbial diversity during the deposition of a Neoproterozoic (c.800 Ma) saline giant: evaporites as an archive for Precambrian halophiles', Australian Earth Sciences Convention (AESC 2010), Geological Society of Australia, Sydney, p. 93.
  • Chopra, A, Lineweaver, C, Brocks, J et al 2010, 'Palaeoecophylostoichiometrics Searching for the Elemental Composition of the Last Universal Common Ancestor', Australian Space Science Conference 2009, ed. W Short & I Cairns, National Space Society of Australia Ltd, Australia, pp. 91-104.
  • Brocks, J & Butterfield, N 2009, 'Early animals out in the cold', Nature, vol. 457, no. online 5 February 2009, pp. 672-673.
  • Brocks, J & Banfield, J 2009, 'Unravelling ancient microbial history with community proteogenomics and lipid geochemistry', Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol. 7, no. Aug, pp. 601-609.
  • Brocks, J, Bosak, T & Pearson, A 2009, 'Oligoprenyl-curcumanes and other new aromatic isoprenoids from the 1.64 billion year old Barney Creek Formation', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 40, pp. 795-801.
  • Brocks, J & Schaeffer, P 2008, 'Okenane, a biomarker for purple sulfur bacteria (Chromatiaceae), and other new carotenoid derivatives from the 1640 Ma Barney Creek Formation', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 72, pp. 1396-1414.
  • Kontnik, R, Bosak, T, Butcher, R et al 2008, 'Sporulenes, Heptaprenyl Metabolites from Bacillus subtilis Spores', Organic Letters, vol. 10, no. 16, pp. 3551-3554.
  • Brocks, J, Grosjean, E & Logan, G 2008, 'Assessing biomarker syngeneity using branched alkanes with quaternary carbon (BAQCs) and other plastic contaminants', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 72, pp. 871-888.
  • Rasmussen, B, Fletcher, I, Brocks, J et al 2008, 'Reassessing the first appearance of eukaryotes and cyanobacteria', Nature, vol. 455, pp. 5p.
  • Brocks, J 2006, 'Molecular fossils', in Karan Chandler, John Giacon (ed.), Dhiirrala Gamilaraay! Teach Gamilaraay! A Resource Book for Teachers of Gamilaraay, Bruderlin MacLean Publishing Services, Adelaide, pp. 252-255.
  • Wappler, T, Hinsken, S, Brocks, J et al 2005, 'A fossil sawfly of the genus Athalia (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) from the Eocene-Oligocene boundary of Altkirch, France', Academie des Sciences Comptes Rendus: Palevol, vol. 4, pp. 7-16.
  • Brocks, J, Love, G, Summons, R et al 2005, 'Biomarker evidence for green and purple sulphur bacteria in a stratified Palaeoproterozoic sea', Nature, vol. 437, no. 6, pp. 866-870.
  • Brocks, J & Pearson, A 2005, 'Building the Biomarker Tree of Life', in J Banfield, J Cervini-Silva & K Nealson (ed.), Molecular geomicrobiology, Mineralogical Society of America, Chantilly, VA, USA, pp. 233-258.
  • Brocks, J & Summons, R 2004, 'Sedimentary hydrocarbons, biomarkers for early life', in R.W. Carlson (ed.), Treatise on Geochemistry, Elsevier, Oxford, UK, pp. 63-115.
  • Brocks, J, Buick, R, Logan, G et al 2003, 'Composition and syngeneity of molecular fossils from the 2.78 - 2.45 billion year old Mount Bruce Supergroup, Pilbara Craton, Western Australia', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 67, no. 22, pp. 4289-4319.
  • Brocks, J, Buick, R, Summons, R et al 2003, 'A reconstruction of Archean biological diversity based on molecular fossils from the 2.78 - 2.45 billion year old Mount Bruce Supergroup, Hamersley Basin, Western Australia', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 67, no. 22, pp. 4321-4335.
  • Brocks, J, Summons, R, Buick, R et al 2003, 'Origin and significance of aromatic hydrocarbons in giant iron ore deposits of the late Archean Hamersley Basin in Western Australia', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 1161-1175.
  • Brocks, J, Love, G, Snape, C et al 2003, 'Release of bound aromatic hydrocarbons from late Archean and Mesoproterozoic kerogens via hydropyrolysis', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 67, no. 8, pp. 1521-1530.
  • Pearson, A, Budin, M & Brocks, J 2003, 'Phylogenetic and biochemical evidence for sterol synthesis in the bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 100, no. 26, pp. 15352-15357.
  • Brocks, J, Logan, G, Buick, R et al 1999, 'Archean molecular fossils and the early rise of eukaryotes', Science, vol. 285, no. 5430, pp. 1033-1036.
  • Brocks, J, Beckhaus, H, Beckwith, A et al 1998, 'Estimation of bond dissociation energies and radical stabilization energies by ESR spectroscopy', Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 63, pp. 1935-1943.
  • Brocks, J 1997, 'Are alpha-centered peptide radicals stabilized by a capto-dative effect?', Tetrahedron Letters, vol. 38, no. 44, pp. 7721-7724.

EMSC 2019 Palaeontology and Geobiology

Supervised students