WORLD’S OLDEST FOSSIL HINTS AT ORIGIN OF LIFE ON MARS
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