Analysis of rocks taken in South Africa has revealed microfossils of microbial life that evolved around hydrothermal vents 3.42 billion years ago. The discovery could help understand how life first appeared on Earth. It could also have implications for exobiology, in our pursuit of solar system organisms.
The development of life occurred in stages in which states of structured matter, intermediate between inanimate and living, gradually appeared. But where did these transformations take place? This question has led to long discussions in biology. Was life formed in a warm little pond? Or on the sea floor around hydrothermal vents? Article published in Scientific progress It does not solve the question, but invites you to bend towards the second option.
3.42 billion years of microbes
As part of the latest work, a team led by Professor Barbara Cavalazzi of the University of Bologna has discovered microfossils attesting to the presence of life around hydrothermal vents. 3.42 billion years. This remnant of life was isolated from rocks extracted from the Barberton-Greenstone Belt in South Africa.
“We have found well-preserved evidence of fossilized microbes that appear to have thrived along the walls of cavities created by hot water from hydrothermal systems a few meters from the sea floor.”The researcher identifies himself in a press release. “Underground habitats, warmed by volcanic activity, may have hosted some of the oldest microbial ecosystems on Earth and this is the oldest example we have discovered so far.”.
The filaments of microfossils discovered in South Africa have been so well preserved that researchers have been able to identify carbon-rich cell walls and numerous nuclei. The high concentrations of nickel isolated in these fossils also indicate that ancient prokaryoticToday’s life forms evolve in hypoxic (oxygen-free) environments depending on on methane To fuel the metabolism.
Submit these fossils and know that life on Earth may be older. Molecular clocks indicate that they evolved at least four billion years ago. fossils Oldest discovered so far (In Greenland, though this is disputed) it is also 3.77 billion years old.
The study could also have implications for exobiology, which could increase our chances of finding extraterrestrial life. Then our eyes turn to Europe (Jupiter) in Encelad (Saturn), two icy moons that can support hydrothermal activity on the subsurface ocean floor.