Analysis of hopanes and steranes in single oil-bearing fluid inclusions using time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS).

PMID 19912374


Steranes and hopanes are organic biomarkers used as indicators for the first appearance of eukaryotes and cyanobacteria on Earth. Oil-bearing fluid inclusions may provide a contamination-free source of Precambrian biomarkers, as the oil has been secluded from the environment since the formation of the inclusion. However, analysis of biomarkers in single oil-bearing fluid inclusions, which is often necessary due to the presence of different generations of inclusions, has not been possible due to the small size of most inclusions. Here, we have used time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) to monitor in real time the opening of individual inclusions trapped in hydrothermal veins of fluorite and calcite and containing oil from Ordovician source rocks. Opening of the inclusions was performed by using a focused C(60)(+) ion beam and the in situ content was precisely analysed for C(27)-C(29) steranes and C(29)-C(32) hopanes using Bi(3)(+) as primary ions. The capacity to unambiguously detect these biomarkers in the picoliter amount of crude oil from a single, normal-sized (15-30 mum in diameter) inclusion makes the approach promising in the search of organic biomarkers for life's early evolution on Earth.