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Martin Brasier (1947–2014): astrobiologist

  • Sean McMahon (a1) and Charles Cockell (a2)

How did life on Earth begin? What does the search for life in the distant past tell us about the search for life on distant planets? How should the most ancient and ambiguous putative biosignatures be critically evaluated? How did the Earth–life system evolve through the dramatic upheavals of the Precambrian–Cambrian boundary? When and why did eukaryotes begin to produce mineralized skeletons? These are among the astrobiological questions to which palaeobiologist Martin Brasier made profound contributions in a career spanning nearly half a century and tragically cut short late last year. Here, we summarize and celebrate Martin's contributions to astrobiology.

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Antcliffe, J. & Brasier, M.D. (2008). Charnia at 50: developmental models for Ediacaran fronds. Palaeontology 51, 1126.
Battison, L. & Brasier, M.D. (2012). Remarkably preserved prokaryote and eukaryote microfossils within 1 Ga-old lake phosphates of the Torridon Group, NW Scotland. Precambrian Res. 196, 204217.
Brasier, M.D. (1975). An outline history of seagrass communities. Palaeontology 18, 681702.
Brasier, M.D. (1976). Early Cambrian intergrowths of archaeocyathids, Renalcis and pseudostromatolites from South Australia. Palaeontology 19, 223245.
Brasier, M.D. (1982). Foraminiferal architectural history: a review using the MinLOC and PI methods. J. Micropalaeontol. 1, 95105.
Brasier, M.D. (1986). Excavation at 147 Lexden Road, Colchester. Trans. Essex Soc. Archaeol. History 16, 145149.
Brasier, M.D. (2009). Darwin's Lost World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Brasier, M.D. (2012). Secret Chambers. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Brasier, M.D. & Armstrong, H. (2004). Microfossils, 2nd edn.Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Brasier, M.D. & Wacey, D. (2012). Fossils and astrobiology: new protocols for cell evolution in deep time. Int. J. Astrobiol. 11, 217228.
Brasier, M.D., Cowie, J.W. & Taylor, M.E. (1994). Decision on the Precambrian–Cambrian boundary stratotype. Episodes 17, 38.
Brasier, M.D., Green, O.R., Jephcoat, A.P., Kleppe, A.K., Van Kranendonk, M.J., Lindsay, J.F., Steele, A. & Grassineau, N.V. (2002). Questioning the evidence for Earth's oldest fossils. Nature 416, 7681.
Brasier, M.D., Green, O.R. & McLoughlin, N. (2004). Characterization and critical testing of potential microfossils from the early Earth: the Apex “microfossil debate” and its lessons for Mars sample return. Int. J. Astrobiol. 3, 112.
Brasier, M.D., Green, O.R., Lindsay, J.F., McLoughlin, N., Steele, A. & Stoakes, C. (2005). Critical testing of Earth's oldest putative fossil assemblage from the ~3.5 Ga Apex chert, Chinaman Creek, Western Australia. Precambrian Res. 140, 55102.
Brasier, M.D., Cotton, L., Yenney, I. (2009). First report of amber with spider's webs and microbial inclusions from the earliest Cretaceous (~140 Ma) of Hastings, Sussex. J. Geol. Soc. 166, 989997.
Brasier, M.D., Antcliffe, J.B. & Callow, R.H.T. (2011a). Evolutionary trends in remarkable fossil preservation across the Ediacaran–Cambrian transition and the impact of metazoan mixing. In: Taphonomy: Processes and Bias Through Time, ed. Allison, P.A. & Bottjer, D.J., Springer, Berlin, pp. 519567.
Brasier, M.D., Matthewman, R., McMahon, S. & Wacey, D. (2011b). Pumice as a remarkable substrate for the origin of life. Astrobiology 11, 725735.
Brasier, M.D., Matthewman, R., McMahon, S., Kilburn, M.R. & Wacey, D. (2013a). Pumice from the ~3460 Ma Apex Basalt, Western Australia: a natural laboratory for the early biosphere. Precambrian Res. 224, 110.
Brasier, M.D., McIlroy, D., Liu, A.G., Antcliffe, J.B. & Menon, L.R. (2013b). The oldest evidence of bioturbation on Earth: comment. Geology 41, e289.
Brasier, M.D., Antcliffe, J., Saunders, M. & Wacey, D. (2015). PNAS 112, 48594864.
Cockell, C.S. (2014). Types of habitat in the Universe. Int. J. Astrobiol. 13, 158164.
Dalton, R. (2002). Microfossils: squaring up over ancient life. Nature 417, 782784.
De Gregorio, B.T., Sharp, T.G., Flynn, G.J., Wirick, S. & Hervig, R.L. (2009). Biogenic origin for Earth's oldest putative microfossils. Geology 37, 631634.
Green, O. (2015). Martin David Brasier 1947–2014. [Online] Available from:
Hazen, R. (2005). Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins. National Academies Press, Washington, DC.
Liu, A., McIlroy, D. & Brasier, M.D. (2010). First evidence for locomotion in the Ediacara biota from the 565 Ma Mistaken Point Formation, Newfoundland. Geology 38, 123126.
Liu, A., McIlroy, D., Antcliffe, J. & Brasier, M.D. (2011). Effaced preservation in the Ediacara biota and its implications for the early macrofossil record. Palaeontology 54, 607630.
Liu, A., Matthews, J.J., Menon, L.R., McIlroy, D. & Brasier, M.D. (2014). Haootia quadriformis n. gen., n. sp., interpreted as a muscular cnidarian impression from the Late Ediacaran period (approx. 560 Ma). Proc. Roy. Soc. B. 281, 20141202.
Marshall, A.O., Emry, J.R. & Marshall, C.P. (2012). Multiple generations of carbon in the Apex chert and implications for preservation of microfossils. Astrobiology 12, 160166.
Marshall, C.P. & Marshall, A.O. (2013). Raman hyperspectral imaging of microfossils: potential pitfalls. Astrobiology 13, 920931.
McLoughlin, N., Brasier, M.D., Wacey, D., Green, O.R. (2007). On biogenicity criteria for endolithic microborings on early Earth and beyond. Astrobiology 7, 1026.
McLoughlin, N., Wilson, L.A. & Brasier, M.D. (2008). Growth of synthetic stromatolites and wrinkle structures in the absence of microbes – implications for the early fossil record. Geobiology 6, 95105.
McLoughlin, N. et al. (2015). A tribute to Martin D. Brasier: palaeobiologist and astrobiologist. Astrobiology In press.
Pinti, D.L., Mineau, R., Clement, V. (2009). Hydrothermal alteration and microfossil artefacts of the 3465-million-year-old Apex Chert. Nat. Geosci. 2, 640643.
Rose, E., McLoughlin, N. & Brasier, M.D. (2006). Ground truth: the epistemology of searching for the earliest life on Earth. In: Life as we Know It: Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology, vol. 10, ed. Seckbach, J.Springer, Berlin, pp. 259285.
Schopf, J.W. (1993). Microfossils of the Early Archean Apex Chert: new evidence of the antiquity of life. Science 260, 640646.
Schopf, J.W. & Kudryavtsev, A.B. (2012). Biogenicity of Earth's earliest fossils: a resolution of the controversy. Gondwana Res. 22, 761771.
Schopf, J.W. & Packer, B.M. (1987). Early Archean (3.3-billion to 3.5-billion-year-old) microfossils from Warrawoona Group, Australia. Science 237, 7073.
Seilacher, A. (1984). Late Precambrian and Early Cambrian metazoa: preservational or real extinctions? In: Patterns of Change in Earth Evolution. vol. 5, ed. Holland, H.D. & Trendall, A.F.Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 159168.
Strother, P.K., Battison, L., Brasier, M.D. & Wellman, C.H. (2011). Earth's earliest non-marine eukaryotes. Nature 473, 505509.
Towe, K.M. (1981). Biochemical keys to the emergence of complex life. In: Life in the Universe, ed. Billingham, J.MIT Press, Cambridge, pp. 297301.
Wacey, D. (2015). Martin Brasier: a journey in palaeobiology. Nat. Geosci. 8, 89.
Wacey, D., Kilburn, M.R., Saunders, M., Cliff, J. & Brasier, M.D. (2011). Microfossils of sulphur-metabolizing cells in 3.4-billion-year-old rocks of Western Australia. Nat. Geosci. 4, 698702.
Ward, P.D. & Brownlee, D. (2000). Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
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International Journal of Astrobiology
  • ISSN: 1473-5504
  • EISSN: 1475-3006
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology
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