Life forms: Schopf thinks these marks are fossils of ancient bacteria.
Dishing the dirt: Brasiers team reckons geological processes made the squiggles.
Gloves are coming off in ancient bacteria bust-up.
A claim to have found evidence of the oldest living things on Earth is being fiercely contested. The argument looks set to run and run, and no one may win, but it may lead to a better understanding of the origins of life on our planet.
The debate is academic, but its implications are not. The ’fossil bacteria’ in question are around 3.5 billion years old. That’s roughly one billion years older than the only confirmed fossil bacteria.
Schopf’s team studied the structure and chemical composition of the squiggles with a technique called laser-Raman imagery. The group argues that the marks are made up of carbon molecules, which are the decay products of living bacterial cells. "They are tiny little fossils," says Schopf.
Brasier’s team repeated some of Schopf’s analyses recently and disagrees. "Schopf’s hypothesis is deeply flawed," Brasier says.
Brasier’s team agrees that the marks’ chemical composition appears biological in origin. But the group thinks that they actually arose through unusual geological processes around ancient hydrothermal vents, where hot volcanic gases rise to the surface.
What’s more, the group says, the squiggles look nothing like other ancient microbes. "The shapes are far too complicated to be bacteria," says Brasier, who feels Schopf should drop his claim.
Brasier’s group asserts that biological-seeming molecules can result from reactions between the carbon dioxide and monoxide released by hot, metal-rich hydrothermal vents. These molecules could then have been sculpted into bacteria-esque filaments as the hot rocks they were born in cooled.
If this was the case, argues Schopf, such material would be found everywhere. So far it hasn’t been. "The facts are going to win and I’ve got the data," he says.
The one thing both parties agree on is that only time will tell. Schopf is continuing to analyse his putative fossils. A nanoscale examination of their ’cell membranes’ will, he claims, prove beyond doubt that the Apex chert does contain the oldest known remains of life on Earth.
Brasier and his team are now investigating the kind of chemical reactions that they believe produced the squiggles. The researchers suspect the reactions could themselves have created complex molecules such as amino acids and be the source of life on Earth. "Schopf may have stumbled on a site that may explain how life got started," says Brasier.
TOM CLARKE | © Nature News Service
Microbes can grow on nitric oxide (NO)
18.03.2019 | Max-Planck-Institut für Marine Mikrobiologie
Novel methods for analyzing neural circuits for innate behaviors in insects
15.03.2019 | Kanazawa University
New research group at the University of Jena combines theory and experiment to demonstrate for the first time certain physical processes in a quantum vacuum
For most people, a vacuum is an empty space. Quantum physics, on the other hand, assumes that even in this lowest-energy state, particles and antiparticles...
Physicists in the EPic Lab at University of Sussex make crucial development in global race to develop a portable atomic clock
Scientists in the Emergent Photonics Lab (EPic Lab) at the University of Sussex have made a breakthrough to a crucial element of an atomic clock - devices...
Every year earthquakes worldwide claim hundreds or even thousands of lives. Forewarning allows people to head for safety and a matter of seconds could spell...
Scientists of the Department of Physics at the University of Hamburg, Germany, detected the magnetic states of atoms on a surface using only heat. The...
Combining an atomically thin graphene and a boron nitride layer at a slightly rotated angle changes their electrical properties. Physicists at the University of Basel have now shown for the first time the combination with a third layer can result in new material properties also in a three-layer sandwich of carbon and boron nitride. This significantly increases the number of potential synthetic materials, report the researchers in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Last year, researchers in the US caused a big stir when they showed that rotating two stacked graphene layers by a “magical” angle of 1.1 degrees turns...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
18.03.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering
18.03.2019 | Materials Sciences
18.03.2019 | Physics and Astronomy