March 02, 2017
Research scientists have found what they say could be fossils of some of the earliest living organisms on planet Earth.
They claim to have discovered the last remains of certain microorganisms in Canada which are a minimum 3.77 billion years old. If these microorganisms have proven to have a biological origin, they would be the oldest microfossils ever to have been found.
The time frame of the microfossils are not long after the formation of the planet and hundreds of millions of years ago what is presently accepted as evidence for the most ancient living found on Earth.
According to a statement released by University College London on Wednesday, small filaments and tubes formed by bacteria which thrived on iron were discovered.
They were the most ancient quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt in Quebec, Canada, which consists of a few of the Earth’s oldest sedimentary rocks.
Matthew Dodd, a researcher at UCL Earth Sciences and the London Centre for Nanotechnology and a key report author said, "Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed."
Before this discovery, the oldest microfossils earlier reported were discovered in 2013 in Western Australia and which dated back to around 3.4 billion years ago.
The team of international scientists working in Canada stated that the finding had unblemished signs of being biological in origin, and includes minerals that are "found in biological matter including bones and teeth," according to a statement from UCL.
"The microfossils we discovered have a range of traits that are similar to younger biological fossils," the study's lead author, Dominic Papineau said. "They have a twisted structure, a little bit like a corkscrew, and branching filaments. We don't have the genetic information yet, but we believe they are non-oxidizing bacteria."
These microorganisms according to Papineau that could eat and breathe could be up to 4.28 billion years old. He said, "If they are this old, this means that life developed very rapidly on Earth.""Just 250 million years after the Earth formed, life was already quite complex."
However, not all scientists are convinced by the team’s discovery.
The head of the Molecular Evolution Institute at Dusseldorf's Heinrich Heine University, Mr. William Martin said, "unconvinced that this is biological material. There is no clear cut evidence that these were made by biology. It's not good enough that these things look like cells."
Papineau is hoping that the team’s discovery will at the end be accepted by the entire scientific community."We have been very specific with our nine independent lines of evidence," he told. With this research, he further added, "we have certainly documented evidence of early life better than anyone else."
Along with possibly shining the light on Earth’s earliest forms, the findings can have significances for the search for life beyond our planet.
Papineau said, "If it happened very quickly here, it could have happened elsewhere in the solar system."
Papineau thinks the development of such life forms needs only water, chemicals like carbon, and volcanic activity. These microorganisms could have potentially developed in a similar time on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter or even Mars.