Going Beyond Appearances to Find Life's History

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Science  25 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5423, pp. 2112-2113
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5423.2112

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With an array of high-tech instruments and an influx of funding from NASA--which seeks new ways to track possible life-forms on other worlds--researchers are starting to read the faint chemical signatures of life left behind in fossils billions of years ago as organisms took in nutrients and built cellular structures. Isotopic and chemical methods are uncovering billion-year-old traces of cellular and even molecular structure, even in rocks where no visible fossils remain.