Charles Darwin’s 1871 musing that all life began in a “warm pond” may turn out to be more accurate than initially believed. New fossil findings in Australian rocks indicate that life on Earth may have originated in freshwater hot springs.
Australian Rocks To Hold The First Traces of Life?
The fossils predate the as yet oldest findings on land by almost 600 million years. Scientists have been studying the Western Australian rock formation known as the Pilbara Craton for decades. As they did so, they have also been looking for the earliest traces of life.
According to reports, the radioactive signature of some of the rocks there dates them back 3.48 billion years. Scientists have been investigating the presence of fossilized stromatolites since the 1970s.
These are “layered rock structures created by communities of ancient microbes”, discovered at the sight.
Once thought to develop in quiet, shallow water, research now indicates that stromatolites form in a volcanic environment. Tara Djokic, a University of New South Wales scientist, found deposits of geyserite in the latest samples taken from Pilbara Craton. Geyserite is a material only found in volcanic hot springs.
Additionally, researchers discovered other new microbial textures that generally grown on the rocks formed around hot springs. They also detected gas bubbles that could only have been contained in a microbial substance for them to survive.
Djokic said that “for the bubbles to be preserved so spherically, it has to be preserved in something sticky.” As it is, at least for the moment, the researchers can’t determine exactly whether these bubbles contain any evidence of oxygen or even traces of life. The team published its current study results in the journal Nature Communications.
Presently, not all the scientific community is convinced by these newly discovered traces. Tanja Bosak, a specialist in microbial rocks from MIT, believes we need to see more evidence to prove that the bubbles were preserved through biological stabilization.
However, the microbial textures in these Australian rocks match those found in fossils at Yellowstone National Park and Rotorua, New Zealand–both hot spring sites, which is an important element.
NASA is considering sending a rover to explore a “hot springs setting” on Mars. This is about as old as the samples from the Pilbara Craton. Investigating the earliest traces of life on Earth may lead to discoveries about life on Mars, for example.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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