Feeds

back to article Sulphur-loving microbes might be oldest life

A microbial bacterial fossil find is being hailed as proof that life existed in the oxygen-free environment of Earth, 3.4 billion years ago. The Strelley Pool Formation in Western Australia was once a beach, but is now more than 100 Km inland near(ish) the town of Marble Bar, and is popular among paleontologists because of the …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Silver badge
Trollface

Strelly pools

Don't expect a dip: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=6664

Although you can get a beer at the Marble bar water ski club...

0
1
Silver badge

Oxygen-free life...

...may have existed. What bothers me more are the water-free* life forms populating the Tube on a summer's day.

*no water wasted on washing.

0
0
Gold badge

@Evil Auditor

Hmm, you've never ridden the Prague Metro during rush-hour in the summer then?

Take deep breath, get on and try to hold it until your destination. This doesn't work, but even air that smells like the inside of a hod-carrier's jockstrap is ok when you're already cross-eyed, dizzy and blue-faced from asphyxiation...

1
0
Silver badge
Boffin

Possibly...

On the other hand, given a number of inorganic processes can also produce microscopic spherical and tubular shapes, I wouldn't jump to any conclusions.

0
0
Silver badge
Happy

That's exactly what I thought

Most minerals form some sort of crystalline / regular structure, so structural regularity is only an indicator.

What really tips the balance to believability (pending confirmation of measurements etc) is the "depletion of C-12". I'm in no way an expert on isotopes & metabolism, so I'm not sure exactly what that means. However I do know that living organisms metabolize radioactive isotopes in a way that dead ones don't, allowing for things such as C-14 dating... so it seems to me to be a valid indicator of 'living organisms'

0
0
Silver badge

C-12

Living organisms preferentially metabolise C-12 over C-13, so their surroundings tend to show a depletion of C-12. There's a similar change in ratio when organisms metabolise sulfur.

This is a fascinating find as it pushes signs of life back to a point within 400 My of the end of the Late Heavy Bombardment which would have plastered the whole planet with massive craters - but which also brought a sizeable amount of the Earth's water.

There are practically no sedimentary rocks of this age left in the world, so this might be the best we can get for now. Although there is a chance fossils from an older rock could be included in a younger conglomerate or breccia. But pretty much every rock of this age has been through at least one phase of metamorphosis which tends to erase fossils as the rocks get cooked.

There is some evidence of life in even older rocks (3.8 Gy) from the Isua Complex in Western Greenland. Some sequences contain traces of graphite enriched C-12 suggestive that they originally came from sediments including living organisms. However, the Isua rocks are in a greenstone belt which has been heavily metamorphosed into gneiss and they've lost their original sedimentary features and any fossils have been baked away.

1
0
Silver badge

C-14

'However I do know that living organisms metabolize radioactive isotopes in a way that dead ones don't, allowing for things such as C-14 dating... so it seems to me to be a valid indicator of 'living organisms''

C-14 is useless for dating almost all fossils as it only has a 5.73ky half-life. IIRC the oldest samples reliably dated using C-14 are only about 60ky.

It can be used to date living and recently deceased organic material because living creatures take up C-14 throughout their life at a known ratio to the stable carbon isotopes. When they die, the uptake of C-14 stops and it begins to decay at a known rate. By measuring the actual ratio found in the sample you can derive an age for the material.

1
1

Seems to bear out

James Lovelock's hypothesis, based on cores from mineral 'heads' off Canada that life existed pre-oxygen. According to that theory, oxygen was a poisonous pollutant that killed off that cycle and gave rise to ours.

5
1
Silver badge
WTF?

Well of course life existed pre-oxygen!

What the hell does the author think created all the oxygen in the atmosphere??

Life begat oxygen, not the other way around. O2 was (and still is for plants) a waste product of the type of metabolism happening billions of years ago.

2
1
J 3
Happy

Indeed

Just remember that O2 is not exclusively waste product for plants (as CO2 is for us), because they also need it to perform respiration. And CO2 is both food and "excrement" for plants. Ew...

0
0
Silver badge

@J3

"Just remember that O2 is not exclusively waste product for plants"

True, but luckily for us they produce a net surplus of 02 and net reduction of CO2.

0
0
Alien

ET's

It also helps strengthen the case for thinking about what other forms of extraterrestrial life are possible, other than just oxygen breathers.

0
0
Facepalm

er, yeah, that's what the article already said

or maybe you did't get as far as the last sentence.

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.