Wspólnotowy Serwis Informacyjny Badan i Rozwoju - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 1 - INACMA (Inorganic Nanoparticles in Archaean Carbonaceous Matter - a key to early life and palaeoenvironmental reconstructions)

The Career Integration Grant (CIG) enabled the transition of Dr. Barbara Cavalazzi to the Bologna University (UniBO) in Italy, where she became an assistant professor of paleontology in 2012, and was stabilized in a permanent position in 2015. The award of the CIG has been critical in sustaining her development as a recognized expert in the field of early life studies. She also fulfilled all the criteria required from the Italian University habilitation competition, to be promoted as Associate Professor. At the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences (BiGeA) at UniBO Dr. Cavalazzi started an independent line of research in geobiology related to origin of life, where she set a lab. for sample storage and geological samples preparation. A PhD fellow joined the lab. at the end of 2014, and UniBO collaborations aligned to her research activities are now consolidated. The adequacy of the facilities made available at the Host Institution and the access to them was satisfactory. The proponent is committed in teaching and other activities helping to divulgate topic related to origin of life and development of early Earth and habitats. Since 2014, she introduced classes on early Earth and Life subjects at the UniBO, attracting students from all the discipline of the School of Science. Since 2014, she is MC-Substitute Member of the COST TD1308-Origins and evolution of life on Earth and in the Universe-ORIGINS. Since 2015, she is the Italian Representative of the Executive Council of the European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA). She also attracted additional funding to further consolidate her research, and developed national and international collaboration. All these developments have definitively ensured the integration of Dr. Cavalazzi research at the UniBO, in Italy and at the International level.

Primary focus of the INACMa research project is on the characterization of the inorganic nanoparticles (IN) in ancient Archaean carbonaceous material (CM) for deciphering crucial aspects of early life and its environmental context. IN have a great potential as a biosignature and paleoenvironmental proxy when associated to fossil objects. The proponent had a satisfying first two years of the INCAMa project with positive and encouraging scientific results. Rock samples from Barberton greenstone belt in South Africa were obtained, prepared and routinely characterized. The most promising samples containing carbonaceous-rich features potentially of biological origin were selected, and part of them investigated to define the nature of the CM and its IN components. Through collaboration with national and international colleagues, the proponent has successfully developed protocols for samples preparation for the different in situ and high-resolution analytical technics used in this research. In particular: 1) specific experiments were designed to identify, measure and quantify heavy metals and IN contents; 2) specific standards were manufactured for calibration of sensitive instruments to measure organics and trace elements. The results till now obtained allowed to recognize microbial features in specific primitive habitats based on their nano-scale composition, their proposed Ni-based bio-geochemistry, and their role as biosignatures. This original multi-analytical approach will be now extended to all selected samples.

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