Earth's habitability Origin Of Life

At Live Science: 3.5 billion-year-old rock structures are one of the oldest signs of life on Earth

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Stephanie Pappas writes:

Fossils called stromatolites from Western Australia were created by microbes 3.48 billion years ago.

A sample of Dresser Formation stromatolite, showing a complex layered structure formed of hematite, barite, and quartz, and a domed upper surface.
A sample of Dresser Formation stromatolite, showing a complex layered structure formed of hematite, barite, and quartz, and a domed upper surface. (Image credit: Keyron Hickman-Lewis)


Layered rocks in Western Australia are some of Earth’s earliest known life, according to a new study. 

The fossils in question are stromatolites, layered rocks that are formed by the excretions of photosynthetic microbes. The oldest stromatolites that scientists agree were made by living organisms date back 3.43 billion years, but there are older specimens, too. In the Dresser Formation of Western Australia, stromatolites dating back 3.48 billion years have been found. 

However, billions of years have wiped away traces of organic matter in these older stromatolites, raising questions about whether they were really formed by microbes or whether they might have been made by other geological processes. 

The new study’s verdict: It was ancient life. 

“We were able to find certain specific microstructures within particular layers of these rocks that are strongly indicative of biological processes,” said Keyron Hickman-Lewis(opens in new tab), a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum in London, who led the research.

Microbial mats 

The findings could have implications for the search for life on Mars, Hickman-Lewis told Live Science. The stromatolites in the Dresser Formation are encrusted in iron oxide from the reaction of iron with oxygen in the atmosphere. Mars’ surface is similarly oxidized — thus the rusty orange color — but its rocks could hold similar structures left behind by ancient Martian life, Hickman-Lewis said. 

Hickman-Lewis and his team examined Western Australian stromatolites first discovered in 2000 by study co-author Frances Westall(opens in new tab) at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. They used a variety of high-resolution 2D and 3D imaging techniques in order to peer into the layers of the stromatolite at a fine scale. 

What they saw hinted at biological growth in all its messy glory. The researchers observed uneven layers, including little dome shapes that are indicative of photosynthesis, since microbes with the most access to the sun will grow more vigorously than those not as high in the structure. They also saw columnar structures that are typical in modern stromatolites, which are still found in a few locations around the globe. 

“Microbial mats give you layers that are uneven in their thickness and tend to be wrinkly or crinkly or go up and down on very small spatial scales,” said Linda Kah(opens in new tab), a sedimentologist and geochemist at the University of Tennessee who was not involved in the new study. Putting all the structural clues together, she told Live Science, “you end up with what looks like the characteristics of a microbial mat.”

Martian microbes? 

The evidence that the Dresser Formation stromatolites are signs of ancient life doesn’t make them the oldest life on the planet. That (possible) honor may go to stromatolites found in 3.7 billion-year-old rock in Greenland, or possibly to microfossils from Canada that might be as old as 4.29 billion years. It’s very difficult to distinguish biological life from non-organic processes in these very old rocks, however, so these finds and others from a similar timeframe are controversial.  

Based on the minerals in the stromatolites, the Western Australia microbial mats probably formed in a shallow lagoon fed by hydrothermal vents that was also connected to the ocean, the researchers reported Nov. 4 in the journal Geology(opens in new tab).

The techniques used to study the Western Australian stromatolites could be useful for seeking life on Mars, Hickman-Lewis said, especially if Mars samples can be returned to Earth

Scientists should “consider some of the analyses here as a trial run of the analyses we will have to do in around a decade’s time when we have materials from Mars.” 

Live Science

The timing of the earliest life signatures on Earth points to a non-natural origin of life. The time window for life’s appearance is geologically very short. As described in the excerpt below from Reasons.org, as soon as Earth’s surface could support life, life appeared “immediately.”

A growing body of evidence points to a period of intense meteoritic activity on Earth between 3.8 and 4.1 billion years ago. Known as the late heavy bombardment (LHB), this era included hundreds of impacts rivaling the one that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (the Chicxulub crater). As dramatic as that sounds, some of the impacts liquefied the top mile or so of Earth’s crust, sterilizing the surface of all life. Although scientists find evidence for life appearing immediately after the LHB ended, new data indicates that these large impact events continued for another two billion years—though at a much slower pace.

4 Replies to “At Live Science: 3.5 billion-year-old rock structures are one of the oldest signs of life on Earth

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    Of related note: In direct contradiction to Darwinian presuppositions, the basic chemistry of these ancient microbial communities that inhabit stromatolites has remained remarkably unchanged throughout their long, extended, history on earth.

    3.5 billion-year-old ecosystem found – November 12, 2013
    Excerpt: “Mound-like deposits created by ancient bacteria, called stromatolites, and microfossils of bacteria have previously been discovered in this region. However, a phenomenon called microbially induced sedimentary structures, or MISS, had not previously been seen in rocks of this great age.”
    MISS were created by microbial mats as the microbial communities responded to changes in physical sediment dynamics, Professor Wacey said.
    “A common example would be the binding together of sediment grains by microbes to prevent their erosion by water currents,” he said. “The significance of MISS is that they not only demonstrate the presence of life, but also the presence of whole microbial ecosystems that could co-ordinate with one another to respond to changes in their environment.”,,,
    The team described the various MISS from the ancient coastal flats preserved in the Dresser Formation and found close similarities in both form and preservation style to MISS in younger rocks.
    http://www.sciencealert.com.au.....25003.html

    Geobiologist Noffke Reports Signs of Life that Are 3.48 Billion Years Old – 11/11/13
    Excerpt: the mats woven of tiny microbes we see today covering tidal flats were also present as life was beginning on Earth. The mats, which are colonies of cyanobacteria, can cause unusual textures and formations in the sand beneath them. Noffke has identified 17 main groups of such textures caused by present-day microbial mats, and has found corresponding structures in geological formations dating back through the ages.
    http://www.odu.edu/about/odu-p...../topstory1

    Moreover, besides the long term stability of these diverse microbial communities in stromatolites
    directly contradicting Darwinian presuppositions, the presence of these diverse microbial communities, ‘as life was beginning on Earth’, makes the Origin of Life problem, (as intractable as that problem is for Darwinists), exponentially worse for Darwinists.

    These following sites have illustrations that show some of the interdependent biogeochemical complexity that is involved in these ancient ‘Microbial Mats’ ,,,

    Microbial mat ecosystems: Structure types, functional diversity, and biotechnological application – 2018 –
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0717345817300738
    Figure 2: Microbial Mat Ecology – 2018
    https://ars.els-cdn.com/content/image/1-s2.0-S0717345817300738-gr2.jpg

    The Microbial Engines That Drive Earth’s Biogeochemical Cycles – 2008
    Figure 2: Biologically mediated cycles for hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and iron
    https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Tom-Fenchel/publication/5353568/figure/fig2/AS:667608508551188@1536181680770/Photosynthesis.png

    Please note that if even one major type of bacteria group did not exist in these ancient and diverse microbial communities, in the complex environmental cycles of biogeochemical interdependence that was illustrated on the preceding sites, then all of the other interdependent bacteria would soon die out. This essential biogeochemical interdependence, of the most primitive different types of bacteria that we have evidence of on ancient earth, makes the origin of life ‘problem’ for Darwinists that much worse. i.e. Now not only do Darwinists have to explain how the ‘miracle of life’ happened once, but now they must also explain how all these different types bacteria, in this irreducibly complex biogeochemical web, ‘miraculously’, arose in time for the other bacteria to continue to survive for any extended period of time.

    Moreover, besides these ancient and diverse microbial communities remaining unchanged in their basic chemistry throughout their long, extended, history on earth, and in further direct contradiction to Darwinian presuppositions, it is also found that the oldest fossil evidence for bacteria that we have, ‘surprisingly’ revealed that the ancient bacteria “looked exactly like modern species,” and the “similarity in morphology is widespread among fossils of [varying] times,”

    Static evolution: is pond scum the same now as billions of years ago?
    Excerpt: But what intrigues (paleo-biologist) J. William Schopf most is lack of change. Schopf was struck 30 years ago by the apparent similarities between some 1-billion-year-old fossils of blue-green bacteria and their modern microbial counterparts. “They surprisingly looked exactly like modern species,” Schopf recalls. Now, after comparing data from throughout the world, Schopf and others have concluded that modern pond scum differs little from the ancient blue-greens. “This similarity in morphology is widespread among fossils of [varying] times,” says Schopf. As evidence, he cites the 3,000 such fossils found;
    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/.....a014909330

    AMBER: THE LOOKING GLASS INTO THE PAST:
    Excerpt: These (fossilized bacteria) cells are actually very similar to present day cyanobacteria. This is not only true for an isolated case but many living genera of cyanobacteria can be linked to fossil cyanobacteria. The detail noted in the fossils of this group gives indication of extreme conservation of morphology, more extreme than in other organisms.
    http://bcb705.blogspot.com/200.....st_23.html

    Moreover, this ‘extreme’ similarity is also found to be present at the molecular level too.
    To the disbelieving shock of Darwinists, “Almost without exception, bacteria isolated from ancient material have proven to closely resemble modern bacteria at both morphological and molecular levels.”

    The Paradox of the “Ancient” (250 Million Year Old) Bacterium Which Contains “Modern” Protein-Coding Genes: Heather Maughan*, C. William Birky Jr., Wayne L. Nicholson, William D. Rosenzweig§ and Russell H. Vreeland ; – 2002
    “Almost without exception, bacteria isolated from ancient material have proven to closely resemble modern bacteria at both morphological and molecular levels.”
    http://mbe.oxfordjournals.org/...../19/9/1637

    To put it mildly, this stunning lack of evolution in bacteria is unexpected under Darwinian presuppositions. As Alan H. Linton – emeritus professor of bacteriology, University of Bristol, stated, “Bacteria, the simplest form of independent life, are ideal for this kind of study, with generation times of 20 to 30 minutes, and populations achieved after 18 hours. But throughout 150 years of the science of bacteriology, there is no evidence that one species of bacteria has changed into another,”,,

    Scant search for the Maker – 2001
    Excerpt: But where is the experimental evidence? None exists in the literature claiming that one species has been shown to evolve into another. Bacteria, the simplest form of independent life, are ideal for this kind of study, with generation times of 20 to 30 minutes, and populations achieved after 18 hours. But throughout 150 years of the science of bacteriology, there is no evidence that one species of bacteria has changed into another, in spite of the fact that populations have been exposed to potent chemical and physical mutagens and that, uniquely, bacteria possess extrachromosomal, transmissible plasmids. Since there is no evidence for species changes between the simplest forms of unicellular life, it is not surprising that there is no evidence for evolution from prokaryotic to eukaryotic cells, let alone throughout the whole array of higher multicellular organisms.
    – Alan H. Linton – emeritus professor of bacteriology, University of Bristol.
    – per times higher education

    Verse:

    1 Thessalonians 5:21
    but test all things. Hold fast to what is good.

  2. 2
    chuckdarwin says:

    Of related note: In direct contradiction to Darwinian presuppositions, the basic chemistry of these ancient microbial communities that inhabit stromatolites has remained remarkably unchanged throughout their long, extended, history on earth.

    Natural selection follows the principle that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dinosaurs inhabited the planet for 160 million years without huge modifications with no end in sight but for the Chicxulub meteor. Sharks have been on the scene virtually unchanged for 450 million years. Alligators, approximately 40 million years. The fact that extant microbial forms are virtually unchanged over the eons simply illustrates how well adapted they are for survival under myriad conditions and not a repudiation of evolution….

  3. 3
    jerry says:

    Chuck,

    I told you yesterday that your assignment is to undermine ID , not support it. Find specious reasons for why natural Evolution is true. It isn’t hard to do since that’s all there is.

    Relevant to OP, non Earth origin of life is gaining steam. That takes the pressure off all the OOL scientists due to their failures.

  4. 4
    Sir Giles says:

    Jerry: Relevant to OP, non Earth origin of life is gaining steam. That takes the pressure off all the OOL scientists due to their failures.

    How so? It just expands the possibilities.

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