Subsurface filamentous fabrics: An evaluation of origins based on morphological and geochemical criteria, with implications for exopaleontology

Beda A. Hofmann, Jack Farmer, Friedhelm Von Blanckenburg, Anthony E. Fallick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


The fossil record of the subsurface biosphere is sparse. Results obtained on subsurface filamentous fabrics (SFF) from >225 paleosubsurface sites in volcanics, oxidized ores, and paleokarst of subrecent to Proterozoic age are presented. SFF are mineral encrustations on filamentous or fibrous substrates that formed in subsurface environments. SFF occur in association with low-temperature aqueous mineral assemblages and consist of tubular, micron-thick (median 1.6 micron) filaments in high spatial density, which occur as irregular masses, matted fabrics, and vertically draped features that resemble stalactites. Micron-sized filamentous centers rule out a stalactitic origin. Morphometric analysis of SFF filamentous forms demonstrates that their shape more closely resembles microbial filaments than fibrous minerals. Abiogenic filament-like forms are considered unlikely precursors of most SFF, because abiogenic forms differ in the distribution of widths and have a lower degree of curvature and a lower number of direction changes. Elemental analyses of SFF show depletion in immobile elements (e.g., Al, Th) and a systematic enrichment in As and Sb, which demonstrates a relation to environments with high flows of water. Sulfur isotopic analyses are consistent with a biological origin of a SFF sample from a Mississippi ValleyType deposit, which is consistent with data in the literature. Fe isotopes in SFF and active analogue systems, however, allow no discrimination between biogenic and abiogenic origins. The origin of most SFF is explained as permineralized remains of microbial filaments that possibly record rapid growth during phases of high water flow that released chemical energy. It is possible that some SFF formed due to encrustation of mineral fibers. SFF share similarities with Microcodium from soil environments. SFF are a logical target in the search for past life on Mars. The macroscopic nature of many SFF allows for their relatively easy in situ recognition and targeting for more detailed microstructural and geochemical analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-117
Number of pages31
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2008


  • Filaments
  • Fossils
  • Mars
  • Microbes
  • Morphology
  • Stable isotopes
  • Subsurface

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Subsurface filamentous fabrics: An evaluation of origins based on morphological and geochemical criteria, with implications for exopaleontology'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this