Australian researchers have found fossils dating back 3.7 billion years in a remote area of Greenland, demonstrating that life emerged rapidly during the planet’s early history.
Australian researchers have found the world’s oldest fossils in a remote area of Greenland, demonstrating that life emerged rapidly during the planet’s early history.
The team, which includes UNSW Professor Martin Van Kranendonk, discovered the 3.7 billion-year-old fossil stromatolites – formations created by communities of ancient microbes – in the world’s oldest rocks in the Isua Greenstone Belt along the edge of Greenland’s Ice Cap.
The stromatolites, which were exposed by the recent melting of a perennial snow patch, are 220 million years older than stromatolites from the Pilbara region of Western Australia which were previously regarded as the world’s oldest.
The research team, led by Professor Allen Nutman of the University of Wollongong, says the discovery not only provides greater insight into the early diversity of life on Earth; it could also have implications for our understanding of life on Mars.
The findings are published today in the journal Nature.
“This discovery represents a new benchmark for the oldest preserved evidence of life on Earth,” says Professor Van Kranendonk, Director of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology in the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences.
“The structures and geochemistry from the newly exposed outcrops in Greenland display all of the features used in younger rocks to argue for a biological origin.
“It points to a rapid emergence of life on Earth and supports the search for life in similarly ancient rocks on Mars, which was a damp environment 3.7 billion years ago,” he says.
For much of Earth’s history, life was just single cells. Stromatolite fossils are layered mounds of carbonate constructed by these communities of microbes as they grow.
The 1 to 4-centimetre high Isua stromatolites were laid down in a shallow sea, providing the first evidence of an environment in which early life thrived. Their discovery pushes back the fossil record to near the start of the Earth’s geological record.
“The significance of stromatolites is that not only do they provide obvious evidence of ancient life that is visible with the naked eye, but that they are complex ecosystems,” says Professor Nutman, who is also an Associate Member of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW.
“This indicates that as long as 3.7 billion years ago microbial life was already diverse. This diversity shows that life emerged within the first few hundred millions years of Earth’s existence, which is in keeping with biologists’ calculations showing the great antiquity of life’s genetic code,” he says.
Co-lead investigator Associate Professor Vickie Bennett from the Australian National University says the study provides a new perspective on the history of the Earth.
“This discovery turns the study of planetary habitability on its head,” she says. “Rather than speculating about potential early environments, for the first time we have rocks that we know record the conditions and environments that sustained early life. Our research will provide new insights into chemical cycles and rock-water-microbe interactions on a young planet.”
Professor Martin Van Kranendonk adds: “UNSW research into early life on Earth continues through the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, which integrates knowledge from early Earth with modern microbial systems to better understand where to explore for life on Mars, in the rest of the Solar System, and beyond.”
Several lines of evidence, such as details of the chemistry, sedimentary structures and minerals in the rocks, together indicate that the stromatolites were formed by live organisms. Previous genetic molecular clock studies suggest life originated on Earth more than 4 billion years ago.
The investigation, conducted by the Australian science team in collaboration with a UK partner, was funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council. The team also includes Professor Allan Chivas from the University of Wollongong.
Institut Ranke-Heinemann / Australisch-Neuseeländischer Hochschulverbund
Pressestelle Friedrichstr. 95
Tel.: 030-20 96 29 593
Professor Martin Van Kranendonk
Professor Allen Nutman
University of Wollongong
Sabine Ranke-Heinemann | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie
Modeling magma to find copper
13.01.2017 | Université de Genève
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
19.01.2017 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
19.01.2017 | Awards Funding
19.01.2017 | Studies and Analyses