Kerogen in Archean rocks: Biotic vs abiotic signatures

DFG-project (DU 1450/3-1; SPP 1833 “Building a Habitable Earth”)

Project description

The origin of organic matter in Archean rocks is commonly highly ambiguous as various sources come into question. The discrimination between biogenic and abiogenic kerogens is particularly problematical in this regard since it has been shown that (bio-) geochemical characteristics (e.g. stable carbon isotope signatures) of organic matter formed by biotic and abiotic processes can be fairly comparable. This project aims at a better understanding of the origins and distribution of kerogens in Archean rocks from the Pilbara Craton (Western Australia) and the Barberton Greenstone Belt (South Africa). By linking field evidences, detailed petrographical observations, and (bio-) geochemical analyses of the kerogens using various innovative state-of-the-art techniques (e.g. catalytic hydropyrolysis (HyPy), nanometer scale secondary ion mass spectrometry (NanoSIMS)), it will be critically assessed whether (i) different kerogens can be assigned to specific sources and if (ii) a discrimination of biogenic and abiogenic kerogens is possible. The expected results will provide important insights into the origin and distribution of organic matter on the early Earth. This is a crucial prerequisite for proofing the presence and diversity of life in Archean habitats.

Kooperation partners

  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Bach (University Bremen, Germany)
  • Prof. Dr. Volker Thiel (University Göttingen, Germany)
  • Prof. Dr. Martin Van Kranendonk (University of New South Wales, Australia)
  • Prof. Dr. Harald Strauß (University Münster, Germany)
  • Prof. Dr. Axel Hofmann (University of Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Pack (University Göttingen, Germany)
  • Prof. Dr. Andreas Kappler (University Tübingen, Germany)
  • PD Dr. Walter Götz (MPI for Solar System Research, Germany)
  • PD Dr. Michael Hoppert (University Göttingen, Germany)
  • Dr. Bettina Schirrmeister (University of Bristol, UK)

Selected publications (corresponding author marked by asterisk)

Mißbach, H.*, Duda, J.-P., Lünsdorf, N.K., Schmidt, B.C., Thiel, V. (2016): Testing the preservation of biomarkers during experimental maturation of an immature kerogen. International Journal of Astrobiology (DOI:

Duda, J.-P.*, Van Kranendonk, M., Thiel, V., Ionescu, D., Strauss, H., Schäfer, N., Reitner, J. (2016): A rare glimpse of Paleoarchean life: Geobiology of an exceptionally preserved microbial mat facies from the 3.4 Ga Strelley Pool Formation, Western Australia. PLoS One, 11, 1, e0147629 (doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147629)

Dr. Jan-Peter Duda (
Prof. Dr. Joachim Reitner (