Prof Jochen Brocks

Professor of Geobiology
Research School of Earth Sciences

I like to call my field of research ‘Paleobiogeochemistry'. ‘Paleobio', because I am particularly fascinated in things ancient and past, such as the origin of life, mysterious ecosystems that inhabited Earth's earliest oceans, and environmental cataclysms that caused major mass extinctions or spawned the first emergence of complex life. To find clues to major events of the past, I study molecular fossils of biological lipids (biomarkers) that can be preserved in sedimentary rocks for billions of years (thus: ‘geo' and ‘chemistry'). I particularly specialize in the detection of traces of biogenic molecules that can only be detected using the most sensitive techniques available. However, I am also interested in unusual living microbial ecosystems in Australia such as sulphidic lakes and water reservoirs (fresh, drinkable water is one of Australia's greatest issues!), and extremely salty inland environments such as Lake Tyrell.

Research interests

Jochen Brocks, from the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University, calls his field of research 'Paleobiogeochemistry' as he is fascinated by biological processes in deep time from the origin of life to mysterious ecosystems in Earth's earliest oceans, and events that may have spawned the evolution of complex multicellular life. To find clues about ancient ecosystems, he studies molecular fossils of biological lipids (biomarkers) that can be preserved in sedimentary rocks for billions of years. Currently he and his students investigate the question why large, multicellular and active creatures appeared on Earth some 600 million years ago, and whether ancient oceans harbored a lost world of complex life that left no traces … possibly apart from a few obsolete molecules.

Groups

  • Hallmann , C, Nettersheim , B, Brocks, J et al. 2020, 'Reply to: Sources of C30 steroid biomarkers in NeoproterozoicCambrian rocks and oils', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 37-39.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Hope, J, Golubkova, E et al. 2020, 'Food sources for the Ediacara biota communities', Nature Communications, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. -.
  • Schinteie, R, Colangelo-Lillis, J, Hope, J et al 2019, 'Impact of drill core contamination on compound-specific carbon and hydrogen isotopic signatures', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 128, pp. 161-171.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Krasnova, A, Ivantsov, A et al 2019, 'Simple sediment rheology explains the Ediacara biota preservation', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 582-589.
  • Jarrett, A, Cox, G, Brocks, J et al 2019, 'Microbial assemblage and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of the 1.38 Ga Velkerri Formation, McArthur Basin, northern Australia', Geobiology, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 360-380.
  • Eggenkamp, H, Louvat, P, Agrinier, P et al 2019, 'The bromine and chlorine isotope composition of primary halite deposits and their significance for the secular isotope composition of seawater', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 264, pp. 13-29.
  • Nettersheim, B, Brocks, J, Schwelm, A, Hope, JM, Not, F, Lomas, M, Schmidt, C, Schiebel,R,. Nowack, ECM, De Deckker, P, et al 2019, 'Putative sponge biomarkers in unicellular Rhizaria question an early rise of animals', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 3, pp. 577-581.
  • Guilbaud, R, Slater, B, Poulton, S et al 2018, 'Oxygen minimum zones in the early Cambrian ocean', Geochemical Perspectives Letters, vol. 6, pp. 33-38.
  • Adam, P, Schaeffer, P & Brocks, J 2018, 'Synthesis of 26-methyl cholestane and identification of cryostanes in mid-Neoproterozoic sediments', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 115, pp. 246-249pp.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Hope, J, Krasnova, A et al 2018, 'Molecular fossils from organically preserved Ediacara biota reveal cyanobacterial origin for Beltanelliformis', Nature Ecology & Evolution, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 437-440pp.
  • Gueneli, N, McKenna, A, Ohkouchi, N et al 2018, '1.1-billion-year-old porphyrins establish a marine ecosystem dominated by bacterial primary producers', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 115, no. 30, pp. 1-9.
  • Goryl, M, Marynowski, L, Brocks, J et al 2018, 'Exceptional preservation of hopanoid and steroid biomarkers in Ediacaran sedimentary rocks of the East European CratoN', Precambrian Research, vol. 316, pp. 38-47pp.
  • Bobrovskiy, I, Hope, J, Ivantsov, A et al 2018, 'Ancient steroids establish the Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia as one of the earliest animals', Science, vol. 361, no. 6408, pp. 1246-1249pp.
  • Hoffman, P, Abbot, D, Ashkenazy, Y et al 2017, 'Snowball Earth climate dynamics and Cryogenian geology-geobiology', Science Advances, vol. 3, no. 11, pp. 43pp.
  • Hoshino, Y, Poshibaeva, A, Meredith, W et al 2017, 'Cryogenian evolution of stigmasteroid biosynthesis', Science Advances, vol. 3, no. 9, pp. 1-7pp.
  • Klaebe, R, Kennedy, M, Jarrett, A et al 2017, 'Local paleoenvironmental controls on the carbon-isotope record defining the Bitter Springs Anomaly', Geobiology, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 65-80pp.
  • Gallagher, T, Sheldon, N, Mauk, J et al 2017, 'Constraining the thermal history of the North American Midcontinent Rift System using carbonate clumped isotopes and organic thermal maturity indices', Precambrian Research, vol. 294, pp. 53-66pp.
  • Beghin, J, Storme, J, Blanpied, C et al 2017, 'Microfossils from the late Mesoproterozoic - early Neoproterozoic Atar/El Mreiti Group, Taoudeni Basin, Mauritania, northwestern Africa', Precambrian Research, vol. 291, pp. 63-82pp.
  • Beghin, J, Guilbaud, R, Poulton, S et al 2017, 'A palaeoecological model for the late Mesoproterozoic ? early Neoproterozoic Atar/El Mre?ti Group, Taoudeni Basin, Mauritania, northwestern Africa', Precambrian Research, vol. 299, pp. 1-14pp.
  • Schinteie, R & Brocks, J 2017, 'Paleoecology of Neoproterozoic hypersaline environments: Biomarker evidence for haloarchaea, methanogens, and cyanobacteria', Geobiology, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 641-663.
  • Brocks, J, Jarrett, A, Sirantoine, E et al 2017, 'The rise of algae in Cryogenian oceans and the emergence of animals', Nature, vol. 548, no. 7669, pp. 578-581pp.
  • Brocks, J, Jarrett, A, Sirantoine, E et al 2016, 'Early sponges and toxic protists: Possible sources of cryostane, an age diagnostic biomarker antedating Sturtian Snowball Earth', Geobiology, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 129-149pp.
  • Petrash, D, Gueneli, N, Brocks, J et al 2016, 'Black shale deposition and early diagenetic dolomite cementation during Oceanic Anoxic Event 1: The mid-Cretaceous Maracaibo Platform, Northwestern South America', American Journal of Science, vol. 316, no. 7, pp. 669-711.
  • Tully, B, Emerson, J, Andrade, K et al 2015, 'De novo sequences of haloquadratum walsbyi from Lake Tyrrell, Australia, reveal a variable genomic landscape', Archaea, vol. 2015, pp. 875784-875784.
  • French, K, Hallman, C, Hope, J et al 2015, 'Reappraisal of hydrocarbon biomarkers in Archean rocks', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 112, no. 19, pp. 5915-5920.
  • Andrade, K, Logemann, J, Heidelberg, K et al 2015, 'Metagenomic and lipid analyses reveal a diel cycle in a hypersaline microbial ecosystem', The International Society of Microbial Ecology, vol. 9, no. 12, pp. 2697-2711.
  • Holman, A, Greenwood, P, Brocks, J et al 2014, 'Effects of sulfide minerals on aromatic maturity parameters: Laboratory investigation using micro-scale sealed vessel pyrolysis', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 76, pp. 270-277.
  • Brocks, J & Hope, J 2014, 'Tailing of Chromatographic Peaks in GC-MS Caused by Interaction of Halogenated Solvents with the Ion Source', Journal of Chromatographic Science, vol. 52, no. 6, pp. 471-475.
  • Bray, P, Brocks, J & George, S 2014, '14C analysis of aliphatic hydrocarbon fractions from the hypersaline Lake Tyrrell, southeast Australia', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 73, pp. 29-34.
  • Wynn, P & Brocks, J 2014, 'A framework for the extraction and interpretation of organic molecules in speleothem carbonate', Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, vol. 28, no. 8, pp. 845-854.
  • Schinteie, R & Brocks, J 2014, 'Evidence for ancient halophiles ? Testing biomarker syngeneity of evaporites from Neoproterozoic and Cambrian strata', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 72, pp. 46-58.
  • De Deckker, P, Munday, C, Brocks, J et al 2014, 'Characterisation of the major dust storm that traversed over eastern Australia in September 2009; a multidisciplinary approach', Aeolian Research, vol. 15, pp. 133-149.
  • Pawlowska, M, Butterfield, N & Brocks, J 2013, 'Lipid taphonomy in the Proterozoic and the effect of microbial mats on biomarker preservation', Geology, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 103-106.
  • Jarrett, A, Schinteie, R, Hope, J et al 2013, 'Micro-ablation, a new technique to remove drilling fluids and other contaminants from fragmented and fissile rock material', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 61, pp. 57-65.
  • Greenwood, P, Brocks, J, Grice, K et al 2013, 'Organic geochemistry and mineralogy. I. Characterisation of organic matter associated with metal deposits', Ore Geology Reviews, vol. 50, pp. 1-27.
  • Schouten, S, Hopmans, E, Rosell-Mele, A et al 2013, 'An interlaboratory study of TEX86 and BIT analysis of sediments, extracts, and standard mixtures', Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, vol. 14, no. 12, pp. 5263-5285.
  • Smith, M, De Deckker, P, Rogers, J et al 2013, 'Comparison of U37K', TEX86H and LDI temperature proxies for reconstruction of south-east Australian ocean temperatures', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 64, pp. 94-104.
  • Narasingarao, P, Podell, S, Ugalde, J et al 2012, 'De novo metagenomic assembly reveals abundant novel major lineage of Archaea in hypersaline microbial communities', The International Society of Microbial Ecology, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 81-93.
  • Bray, P, Jones, C, Fallon, S et al 2012, 'Radiocarbon analysis of halophilic microbial lipids from an Australian salt lake', Quaternary Research, vol. 77, no. 1, pp. 104-109.
  • Holman, A, Grice, K, Jaraula, C et al 2012, 'Efficiency of extraction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from the Paleoproterozoic here's your chance Pb/Zn/Ag ore deposit and implications for a study of bitumen II', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 52, pp. 81-87.
  • Lee, C & Brocks, J 2011, 'Identification of carotane breakdown products in the 1.64 billion year old Barney Creek Formation, McArthur Basin, northern Australia', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 425-430.
  • Brocks, J 2011, 'Millimeter-scale concentration gradients of hydrocarbons in Archean shales: Live-oil escape or fingerprint of contamination?', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 75, no. 11, pp. 3196-3213.
  • Schinteie, R & Brocks, J 2010, 'Assessing microbial diversity during the deposition of a Neoproterozoic (c.800 Ma) saline giant: evaporites as an archive for Precambrian halophiles', Australian Earth Sciences Convention (AESC 2010), Geological Society of Australia, Sydney, p. 93.
  • Chopra, A, Lineweaver, C, Brocks, J et al 2010, 'Palaeoecophylostoichiometrics Searching for the Elemental Composition of the Last Universal Common Ancestor', Australian Space Science Conference 2009, ed. W Short & I Cairns, National Space Society of Australia Ltd, Australia, pp. 91-104.
  • Brocks, J & Butterfield, N 2009, 'Early animals out in the cold', Nature, vol. 457, no. online 5 February 2009, pp. 672-673.
  • Brocks, J & Banfield, J 2009, 'Unravelling ancient microbial history with community proteogenomics and lipid geochemistry', Nature Reviews Microbiology, vol. 7, no. Aug, pp. 601-609.
  • Brocks, J, Bosak, T & Pearson, A 2009, 'Oligoprenyl-curcumanes and other new aromatic isoprenoids from the 1.64 billion year old Barney Creek Formation', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 40, pp. 795-801.
  • Brocks, J & Schaeffer, P 2008, 'Okenane, a biomarker for purple sulfur bacteria (Chromatiaceae), and other new carotenoid derivatives from the 1640 Ma Barney Creek Formation', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 72, pp. 1396-1414.
  • Kontnik, R, Bosak, T, Butcher, R et al 2008, 'Sporulenes, Heptaprenyl Metabolites from Bacillus subtilis Spores', Organic Letters, vol. 10, no. 16, pp. 3551-3554.
  • Brocks, J, Grosjean, E & Logan, G 2008, 'Assessing biomarker syngeneity using branched alkanes with quaternary carbon (BAQCs) and other plastic contaminants', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 72, pp. 871-888.
  • Rasmussen, B, Fletcher, I, Brocks, J et al 2008, 'Reassessing the first appearance of eukaryotes and cyanobacteria', Nature, vol. 455, pp. 5p.
  • Brocks, J 2006, 'Molecular fossils', in Karan Chandler, John Giacon (ed.), Dhiirrala Gamilaraay! Teach Gamilaraay! A Resource Book for Teachers of Gamilaraay, Bruderlin MacLean Publishing Services, Adelaide, pp. 252-255.
  • Wappler, T, Hinsken, S, Brocks, J et al 2005, 'A fossil sawfly of the genus Athalia (Hymenoptera: Tenthredinidae) from the Eocene-Oligocene boundary of Altkirch, France', Academie des Sciences Comptes Rendus: Palevol, vol. 4, pp. 7-16.
  • Brocks, J, Love, G, Summons, R et al 2005, 'Biomarker evidence for green and purple sulphur bacteria in a stratified Palaeoproterozoic sea', Nature, vol. 437, no. 6, pp. 866-870.
  • Brocks, J & Pearson, A 2005, 'Building the Biomarker Tree of Life', in J Banfield, J Cervini-Silva & K Nealson (ed.), Molecular geomicrobiology, Mineralogical Society of America, Chantilly, VA, USA, pp. 233-258.
  • Brocks, J & Summons, R 2004, 'Sedimentary hydrocarbons, biomarkers for early life', in R.W. Carlson (ed.), Treatise on Geochemistry, Elsevier, Oxford, UK, pp. 63-115.
  • Brocks, J, Buick, R, Logan, G et al 2003, 'Composition and syngeneity of molecular fossils from the 2.78 - 2.45 billion year old Mount Bruce Supergroup, Pilbara Craton, Western Australia', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 67, no. 22, pp. 4289-4319.
  • Brocks, J, Buick, R, Summons, R et al 2003, 'A reconstruction of Archean biological diversity based on molecular fossils from the 2.78 - 2.45 billion year old Mount Bruce Supergroup, Hamersley Basin, Western Australia', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 67, no. 22, pp. 4321-4335.
  • Brocks, J, Summons, R, Buick, R et al 2003, 'Origin and significance of aromatic hydrocarbons in giant iron ore deposits of the late Archean Hamersley Basin in Western Australia', Organic Geochemistry, vol. 34, no. 8, pp. 1161-1175.
  • Brocks, J, Love, G, Snape, C et al 2003, 'Release of bound aromatic hydrocarbons from late Archean and Mesoproterozoic kerogens via hydropyrolysis', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, vol. 67, no. 8, pp. 1521-1530.
  • Pearson, A, Budin, M & Brocks, J 2003, 'Phylogenetic and biochemical evidence for sterol synthesis in the bacterium Gemmata obscuriglobus', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 100, no. 26, pp. 15352-15357.
  • Brocks, J, Logan, G, Buick, R et al 1999, 'Archean molecular fossils and the early rise of eukaryotes', Science, vol. 285, no. 5430, pp. 1033-1036.
  • Brocks, J, Beckhaus, H, Beckwith, A et al 1998, 'Estimation of bond dissociation energies and radical stabilization energies by ESR spectroscopy', Journal of Organic Chemistry, vol. 63, pp. 1935-1943.
  • Brocks, J 1997, 'Are alpha-centered peptide radicals stabilized by a capto-dative effect?', Tetrahedron Letters, vol. 38, no. 44, pp. 7721-7724.