microbes Related to the methane cycle that already lived in a hydrothermal system under the sea floor 3,420 million years ago, a discovery that expands the boundaries of potentially habitable environments, not only in Earth Primitive, but on other planets like Mars.
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team led University of Bologna (Italy) has discovered fossil remains that are the oldest evidence of this type of microorganism, according to a study published today. science advances.
The remains were found in the Green Stone Belt of Barberton (South Africa), an area near the borders with Swaziland and Mozambique, which preserves some of the oldest and best preserved sedimentary rocks on the planet.
The team found “exceptionally well-preserved” evidence of these fossilized microbes in cavities created by hot water from hydrothermal systems just a few meters from the sea floor, noted Barbara Cavalazzi, the study’s lead author.
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He said subterranean habitats, heated by volcanic activity, likely hosted some of Earth’s oldest microbial ecosystems and “this is the oldest example” they have discovered so far.
The interaction of cold seawater with warmer geothermal fluids had created a “rich chemical soup,” with changes in conditions giving rise to many potential micro-habitats.
Chemical analysis shows that the sutures on the walls and floor of the cavity contain “most of the major elements necessary for life”. The nickel concentrations in the organic compounds provide further evidence of primitive metabolic processes and are consistent with the nickel content found in modern microbes, known as archaea, which live in the absence of oxygen and use methane in their metabolism.
“Although we know that primitive prokaryotes can fossilize, we have very few direct examples,” said Cavalazzi, whose discoveries could expand the archaean fossil record for the first time to the time when life appeared on Earth.
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The expert stressed that since there are “similar environments on Mars, the study has implications for astrobiology and the possibilities for finding extraterrestrial life.”
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