I was reading this article about how Schopf and Valley’s findings in 2017 confirmed that the 3.5 billion–year-old microfossils found in the Apex chert of Western Australia are indeed remnants of living organisms, as opposed to abiotic geological structures. The most detailed part of the article’s explanation is:
Using SIMS, Valley’s team was able to tease apart the carbon-12 from the carbon-13 within each fossil and measure the ratio of the two compared to a known carbon isotope standard and a fossil-less section of the rock in which they were found.
“The differences in carbon isotope ratios correlate with their shapes,” Valley says. “If they’re not biological there is no reason for such a correlation. Their C-13-to-C-12 ratios are characteristic of biology and metabolic function.”
Can someone explain this in more detail? In particular, why should this ratio be different in biological carbon samples, compared to abiotic carbon samples?