The Fat of Life

July 7, 2016

Postdoc Shane O'Reilly hunts for molecular fossils in the geologic record to reconstract what life and environments may have looked like at important intervals in Earth's past.

Molecular fossils are organic molecules derived from organisms that have been preserved for thousands to hundreds of millions of years in sediments and rocks. Fats (lipids) from from such fossils preserve information about the organism that produced them and the environment in which they were produced and, compared to DNA or protein, have a much better chance of being preserved.

Shane O'Reilly: Hunting for Fossil Fat

During the Cambridge Science Festival in April, Summons Group postdoc Shane O'Reilly gave this talk at a CafeSci Boston event organized by NOVA PBS.  O'Reilly uses the tools of organic geochemistry and molecular microbial ecology to study natural processes and cycles in the environment by analyzing fat in molecular fossils. In particular, his work to date has involved studying recently discovered cold seep features in diverse settings in the waters around his native Ireland. He has also been involved in tracing the origin, distribution and fate of terrestrial and marine organic matter in the marine environment ans well as in projects using biomarkers to reconstruct environmental and climatic conditions in the geological past.

Story image: Part of an Ammonite, old granddad of our octopus. The colors come from iron-holding sediment by Rookuzz - Used under a Creative Common License