T-ERC_COG - Tremplin-ERC Consolidator Grant

Multi-scale Geochemical and Isotopic Fingerprinting of Earth’s Earliest Microbial Communities: Towards a Paleoecological Understanding of Life’s First Steps – EARLY-ECO

Submission summary

Earth’s most ancient sedimentary rocks preserve abundant physical, chemical, and isotopic evidence of a thriving and evolving microbial biosphere that reigned on Earth for billions of years. In the first billion years or so, this primitive biosphere gave rise to the major metabolic pathways that define our living planet today: the diverse forms of photosynthesis, chemotrophy, and respiration that underpin modern global biogeochemical cycling and the biospheric regulation of Earth’s climate. Lessons from this early history constitute some of humanity’s most profound origin stories and strongly inform the search for life on other planets. Yet many of the details of the earliest history of microbial life on Earth – when exactly in deep geological time particular metabolisms were operational, in which environments, and under which local chemical or environmental conditions – remain poorly understood. The EARLY-ECO project aims to significantly advance our knowledge of Earth’s earliest microbial ecosystems via the careful sedimentological, geochemical, and isotopic examination of the best-preserved traces of life spanning a variety of sites dating from 3.48 billion years to 2.6 billion years ago.

From the scale of individual microfossils and microbial mat lamina to the chemostratigraphy of entire geological formations, the EARLY-ECO project will push the analytical frontier to provide new constraints on life’s carbon, nitrogen, and energy acquisition strategies across multiple environments of the Archean Earth, including shallow water stromatolitic ecosystems, offshore pelagic ecosystems, and the first emerged terrestrial habitats. The ultimate goal of the EARLY-ECO project is a paradigm shift towards a paleoecological understanding of Earth’s earliest ecosystems – an integrated view of the who, how, where, and when – in order to better understand Life’s first steps on Earth and how it might develop elsewhere in the universe.

This current ANR ERC-Tremplin CoG submission aims to boost the chances of success of the EARLY-ECO project, which was favorably evaluated in 2022 but not retained for funding. ANR support will significantly enhance the chances of success in 2023 for the EARLY-ECO project by enabling (1) proof-of-concept technological development and instrument testing in relation to the novel analytical instrumentation to be developed through the EARLY-ECO project, (2) the generation of additional supporting isotopic data from ancient sedimentary records in support the EARLY-ECO project, and (3) publication, conference participation, and scientific exchange to bolster the impact of EARLY-ECO supporting data amongst the wider community.

Project coordination

Stefan Lalonde (GEO-OCEAN)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 108,747 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 24 Months

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