Researchers claim that they may have uncovered what seems to be the oldest life on Earth embedded in rocks that survived for at least 3.7 billion years.
Their discovery, described in a paper published in the journal Nature, was based on very small and unusual shapes and patterns in the rock. The researchers argue that the shapes they found in the rock, such as tubes and spirals, resemble the pattern found around volcanic vents in the ocean, where bacteria strive.
"It provides us with this high degree of certainty that these structures are indeed, biological microorganisms that were living and thriving around hydrothermal vents billions of years ago," said Matthew Dodd, a biogeochemist at University College London and co-author of the paper, in a report from National Public Radio.
Aside from the shapes and patterns, the researchers also found traces of carbon and phosphorus in the rock. Carbon and phosphorus are considered to be key ingredients for biological life.
Furthermore, the thread-like filament and cylinder-shaped tubes in the rocks were similar to the ones excreted by modern iron-consuming bacteria. Such filaments and tubes were also observed in much younger microfossils found in Norwegian rocks.
The rocks holding the fossils were collected from northeastern Quebec. Two separate teams tried to identify the age of the rocks using separate techniques. One of the groups put the rock to around 3.7 billion years, while the other one got 4.3 billion years.
Other scientists welcomed the new study with skepticism. They pointed out that it is possible that the shapes and patterns the researchers found in the rock were formed solely from geological process without any help from biological activities.
Once confirmed, the rocks will be considered as the oldest known fossils, beating the previous contender that have the confirmed age of 3.5 billion years.
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