4 billion year-old fossils found in Canadian quartz

Traces in rock may be the oldest evidence of life on Earth ever

Traces in rock may be the oldest evidence of life on Earth ever

An global team of scientists lead by the University College London (UCL) recently discovered those microorganism remains, preserved for billions of years, which the scientists think could be the oldest fossils humans have ever unearthed.

If the researchers are right, these fossils are 300 million years older than the next closest candidate for Earth's most ancient fossils, which were found in Australia in 2013 and dated to almost 3.5 billion years ago. And Dr Dominic Papineau, also from UCL, who discovered the fossils in Quebec, thinks this kind of setting was very probably also the cradle for lifeforms between 3.77 and 4.28 billion years ago (the upper and lower age estimates for the NSB rocks).

Microscopic filaments and tubes formed by ancient iron-loving bacteria were found encased in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt (NSB).

Lead co-author Michael Dodd of University College London (England) said the discovery could lead scientists to new clues about how life on Earth and other planets emerged. There's a lot of activity at hydrothermal vents, she says, and it's possible that something like precipitating minerals could be responsible for creating the curious shapes in these fossils.

It would also show that life and biological evolution is an easier process to get started than scientists had believed. What is claimed to be the oldest evidence of life on Earth yet found backs the idea that the first microbes originated around hydrothermal vents on the seafloor - but the work is already proving controversial. Similar granules are often associated with fossils in younger rocks, the authors wrote.

Other structures found in the rocks known as "rosettes" also contain graphite carbon, which in some cases can be the mineral remnants of life.

The UCL team believes that looking for fossils on the Red Planet is the best chance of finding evidence of alien life. These are some of the oldest known sedimentary rocks on the planet, identified by team member Dominic Papineau. The iron filaments closely resemble those made by bacteria at modern hydrothermal vents, leading the authors to argue biological formation of these tubes is the most convincing explanation for their findings.

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In a discovery that could help find evidence of life on Mars, researchers from the University of Western Australia have helped analyse fossils now confirmed as being the world's oldest fossils found to date.

No matter what the answer is, the search for the origin of early life is not close to ending on this planet, or beyond.

"One of the big questions when it comes to early life studies is whether or not the organic carbon we find in these rocks is actually biological in origin", explained Dodd. "We are not talking about having a lovely fossil bone here or something", she says.

'Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4,000 million years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception'.

It seems there are three observations to make: 1) The more we know, the more it seems that life arose rapidly on the early Earth, even more quickly that we previously realized. Rocks that are three billion years old or older are hard to come by, as they have mostly been crunched up or eroded away many times over through Earth's turbulent history.

"We don't have a good enough understanding of the range of features that can form under all sorts of conditions, whether they include biology or not", she says.

Dodd says their findings mesh well with life starting at a hydrothermal vent. That would surpass the 3.7 billion years assigned to some other rock features found in Greenland, which were proposed to be fossils last August.

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