The Geobiology Lab at OU explores the molecular structural diversity, natural distribution and biogeochemical significance of lipid biomarkers.

Lipid biomarkers preserved in sedimentary records are organic fossil molecules derived from once living organisms. Owing to their chemical stability compared to other biomolecules, e.g., protein and DNA, lipid biomarkers are often utilized to investigate the coevolution of Life and Earth in deep time. Since the first identification of porphyrins in petroleum samples in early last century, continuously improved sampling and analytical techniques has facilitated the discovery of numerous lipid biomarker compounds and promoted their application in various disciplines of geosciences. However, emerging and long-lasting issues, such as undetermined biological sources and physiology of specific lipids, have raised concerns about the fidelity of certain lipid biomarkers. Our works focus on developing novel analytical protocols for robust biomarker analysis and improve the application of biomarker proxies.

Present research topics include:

  • Structural diversity of Archaeal/Bacterial glycerol tetraether lipids (GDGTs) and their physiological roles
  • Distribution of tetrapyrrole derivatives (chlorophylls, fossil porphyrins) and ancient primary productivity

  • Characterization of (aromatic) carotenoids in biological and environmental samples

  • Sedimentary records of tocopherols (Vitamin E) and their biogeochemical significance

  • Arsenolipids and arsenic biogeochemistry

  • Wholistic lipid inventory for dynamic marine microbial communities

  • Integrated trace metal and biomarker proxies for paleoenvironment


For perspective students, if you are interested in our research and considering to join our group, please contact Dr. Liu, email:, directly.


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