Scientists find 'earliest evidence of life on Earth'

02 March, 2017, 00:24 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • Oldest fossil ever found on Earth shows alien life on Mars is likely

Microscopic filaments and tubes formed by ancient iron-loving bacteria were found encased in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB).

Dodd: We chose the Nuvvuagittuq belt because of its age-3.77 to 4.28 billion years-and because of the rocks there: pillow basalts, with chemical similarities to mid-ocean ridge basalt, and iron-formations, long suspected to be the products of hydrothermal venting and precipitation.

Below the surface water, the ocean crust would have been literally bubbling with activity: with hydrothermal vents, the water heated by volcanic activity. "Given this new evidence. ancient submarine-hydrothermal vent systems should be viewed as potential sites for the origins of life on Earth, and thus primary targets in the search for extraterrestrial life".

"If life happened so quickly on Earth, then could we expect it to be a simple process that could start on other planets?" asked lead author Matthew Dodd, a graduate student at the London Centre for Nanotechnology.

It's not 100% clear whether the newly discovered specimens are evidence of early life on Earth, since these kinds of ancient rocks suffer billions of years' worth of geologic damage and have features that look biological.

Scientists have discovered microfossils believed to be older than any others found to date.

The discovery was made in the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt in Northern Quebec in rock known as "banded iron formations".

This discovery comes just a few months after another team of scientists announced it had found the world's oldest fossils in Greenland. "It was the first time that we've used that (measurement) on Earth, simply because no rocks were old enough before that".

He argued these rocks would have been subjected to enormous temperature and pressure changes, which could have a range of effects on the minerals contained within them.

Dodd says their findings mesh well with life starting at a hydrothermal vent. Given the long-standing theory that the origin of life happened in hydrothermal vent environments, we knew that these rocks were flawless choices to look for Earth's oldest lifeforms.

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This rock sample is believed to have once been part of a hydrothermal vent.

However, not everyone is convinced: One scientist says there's no way to say for sure that these traces are evidence of life - or that they are truly ancient.

In addition, the researchers said they considered all the known and likely scenarios that might have formed these structures without the aid of a living organism.

So, although multiple individual lines of evidence do point to the structures being evidence of life, the problem occurs when they try to weave those pieces of evidence into a complex story, Konhauser said. Rocks that are three billion years old or older are hard to come by, as they have mostly been crunched up or eroded away many times over through Earth's turbulent history.

"At this time in the evolution of the solar system, we also think that Mars had liquid oceans at its surface, which strongly suggests that we should have had life evolve on Mars as well", Dodd says.

In addition, the team found distinctive "rosettes" of carbonate, along with a chemical called apatite interwoven through them.

When biological matter putrefies, it creates gases that could have bubbled up through minerals.

"It's very possible that there was life at that time - I think it's nearly certainly the case - but as we delve deeper in the rock record, each interpretation gets more contentious, but here I think the science doesn't hold", said Professor Van Kranendonk.

That doesn't necessarily mean that life originated in deep waters rather than in shallow seas, Papineau says. These hot environments are similar to hydro thermal vents also thought to exist beneath the thick ice of Jupiter's moon Europa.

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