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
New yeast species discovered in Braunschweig, Germany
13.12.2019 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Saliva test shows promise for earlier and easier detection of mouth and throat cancer
13.12.2019 | Elsevier
Vaccinia viruses serve as a vaccine against human smallpox and as the basis of new cancer therapies. Two studies now provide fascinating insights into their unusual propagation strategy at the atomic level.
For viruses to multiply, they usually need the support of the cells they infect. In many cases, only in their host’s nucleus can they find the machines,...
More than one hundred and fifty years have passed since the publication of James Clerk Maxwell's "A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field" (1865). What would our lives be without this publication?
It is difficult to imagine, as this treatise revolutionized our fundamental understanding of electric fields, magnetic fields, and light. The twenty original...
In a joint experimental and theoretical work performed at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, an international team of physicists detected for the first time an orbital crossing in the highly charged ion Pr⁹⁺. Optical spectra were recorded employing an electron beam ion trap and analysed with the aid of atomic structure calculations. A proposed nHz-wide transition has been identified and its energy was determined with high precision. Theory predicts a very high sensitivity to new physics and extremely low susceptibility to external perturbations for this “clock line” making it a unique candidate for proposed precision studies.
Laser spectroscopy of neutral atoms and singly charged ions has reached astonishing precision by merit of a chain of technological advances during the past...
The ability to investigate the dynamics of single particle at the nano-scale and femtosecond level remained an unfathomed dream for years. It was not until the dawn of the 21st century that nanotechnology and femtoscience gradually merged together and the first ultrafast microscopy of individual quantum dots (QDs) and molecules was accomplished.
Ultrafast microscopy studies entirely rely on detecting nanoparticles or single molecules with luminescence techniques, which require efficient emitters to...
Graphene, a two-dimensional structure made of carbon, is a material with excellent mechanical, electronic and optical properties. However, it did not seem suitable for magnetic applications. Together with international partners, Empa researchers have now succeeded in synthesizing a unique nanographene predicted in the 1970s, which conclusively demonstrates that carbon in very specific forms has magnetic properties that could permit future spintronic applications. The results have just been published in the renowned journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Depending on the shape and orientation of their edges, graphene nanostructures (also known as nanographenes) can have very different properties – for example,...
03.12.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2019 | Materials Sciences