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
Receding glaciers in Bolivia leave communities at risk
20.10.2016 | European Geosciences Union
UM researchers study vast carbon residue of ocean life
19.10.2016 | University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science
Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.
"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...
In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.
A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...
By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.
"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...
COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.
In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...
'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.
Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...
14.10.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
12.10.2016 | Event News
21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine
21.10.2016 | Information Technology
21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences