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
NASA examines Peru's deadly rainfall
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Steep rise of the Bernese Alps
24.03.2017 | Universität Bern
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy