Focus-Science and Technology - - Discoveries -

This rock could host the re­mains of one of the old­est life forms on Earth. A team from Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don has dis­cov­ered fos­sils of ironeat­ing micro­organ­isms at least 3.7 bil­lion years old en­cased in lay­ers of quartz in Nuvvuagit­tuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB), Que­bec, Canada.

The NSB con­tains some of the Earth’s old­est sed­i­men­tary rocks that prob­a­bly formed part of an iron-rich deep-sea hy­dro­ther­mal vent sys­tem that pro­vided a habi­tat for the planet’s first life forms.

“Our dis­cov­ery sup­ports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed,” said re­searcher Matthew Dodd. Ac­cord­ing to Dodd, this rapid ap­pear­ance of life on Earth fits in with other ev­i­dence of re­cently dis­cov­ered 3.7-bil­lion-year- old sed­i­men­tary mounds that were shaped by micro­organ­isms.

The fos­sils are sim­i­lar to the iron- ox­i­dis­ing bac­te­ria that are found near hy­dro­ther­mal vents to­day. They were dis­cov­ered along­side other min­er­als which are found in bi­o­log­i­cal mat­ter and are fre­quently as­so­ci­ated with fos­sils.

The or­gan­isms date back to a time when there was also liq­uid water present on Mars, sug­gest­ing that the Red Planet may have hosted life too. “These dis­cov­er­ies demon­strate life de­vel­oped on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liq­uid water at their sur­faces, pos­ing ex­cit­ing ques­tions for ex­trater­res­trial life,” said Dodd. “There­fore, we ex­pect to find ev­i­dence for past life on Mars four bil­lion years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a spe­cial ex­cep­tion.”

MAIN IM­AGE: This rocky out­crop where the fos­sils were found may once have been part of a sys­tem of hy­dro­ther­mal vents IN­SET IM­AGE: The tiny fos­sils con­tain tubules, formed by an­cient bac­te­ria

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