These Tiny Burrows Might Be Some of the Oldest Fossils on Earth

Live Science | 8/21/2018 | Staff
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Tiny filaments burrowed in 3.4-billion-year-old rocks may be evidence of some of Earth's earliest life, scientists argue in a new study. But not everyone is convinced these burrows are fossils of ancient lifeforms.

These so-called microfossils, found in a shallow lake known as Strelley Pool in Western Australia, have been a source of contention for decades, with some scientists arguing that the mysterious tunnels were forged by volcanic processes, rather than primordial life.

Authors - Study - Analysis - Rocks - Date

The authors of the new study say their analysis of the rocks — which date to the early Archean eon, 4 billion to 2.5 billion years ago — "all but confirms" that these Strelley Pool microfossils were once home to some of Earth's earliest life-forms.

The team analyzed the ancient structures found in the hard rock deposits, called cherts, of Western Australia's Strelley Pool Formation using advanced microscopy and spectroscopy techniques. The team compared the Strelley Pool filaments with similar structures made by modern bacteria, as well as with 1.9-billion-year-old microfossils from Canada's Gunflint Formation in Ontario, Canada. The Strelley Pool filaments contained organic molecules with similar chemical features to both of the other samples, suggesting all three were made by the same — biological — process.

Work - Types - Analyses - Evidence - Cherts

"This is exciting work, with the new types of analyses providing compelling evidence that the cherts contain biogenic microfossils," or fossils made by living organisms, Vickie Bennett, a professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the research, said in a statement. "This is in line with other observations for early life from the Strelley Pool rocks." The results confirm the minimum age for life on Earth is 3.4 billion years, Bennett added.

Still, techniques used by Alleon and his team "are not applicable to the older rocks that host the claims for the oldest terrestrial life," Bennett...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Live Science
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