Microfossils up to nearly 4.3 billion years old found in Canada of microbes are similar to the bacteria that thrive today around sea floor hydrothermal vents and may represent the oldest-known evidence of life on Earth, scientists said on Wednesday.
On the other hand, these rusty branching patterns in the rocks in this most recent find nearly certainly could not have been formed by non-biological means, says Papineau.
The bacteria were found in rock formations in Quebec, and are smaller than the width of a human hair.
Haematite tubes from the hydrothermal vent deposits are said to be the oldest microfossils and evidence for life on Earth.
Until this discovery, the oldest reported microfossils had been found thousands of kilometres away, in Western Australia.
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It's also worth remembering that this discovery shows us life managed to take hold and rapidly evolve on Earth at a time when Mars had liquid water on its surface. They determined a geochemical explanation for the filaments was highly unlikely. Other scientists have since uncovered what they claim to be even older specimens but until now, the Australian specimens have remained the oldest reliable fossils to date. Similarly, the researchers had to go through the lengthy procedure of assurance whether the fossils found in Canada were life forms or had nothing whatsoever to do with life.
Both of the above reports, however, quoted scientists who weren't fully on board with the researchers' claims that they had found the earliest forms of life on Earth. "If we don't find evidence of life on Mars from 3.7 billion years ag, o then we can assume Earth was a very special exception". Though the data are less definitive than the evidence for life in younger rocks, he says, this "may be as good as it gets for as old as these rocks are".
Details were published Wednesday in a study in the journal Nature. In all, he estimates that the microorganisms may be up to 4.28 billion years old, and an indicator of how complex life had become in such a short time in relation to the universe's lifespan. Team members say the fossil tubes and filaments discovered resemble similar structures left behind by the microbes that live in such environments today, feeding on iron and other minerals. Scientists said on Tuesday they used the method on fossils of the chicken-sized, feathered, bird-like dinosaur Anchiornis that lived in China about 160 million years ago, finding it possessed drumstick-shaped legs, arms similar to the wings of some modern gliding and soaring birds, and a long, slender tail.
The bacteria were found alongside the likes of graphite, apatite and carbonate - three minerals that are commonly found in living organisms.
All this, the researchers say, is consistent with iron-oxidizing bacteria that we find at hydrothermal vents today, as well as slightly less ancient fossil examples. However, he says it should help narrow down the search for life on Mars to regions where water once covered the planet's surface. On the other hand, as a source of purposeful agency able to bring life into existence 1) quickly, 2) despite obstacles in the path of purely material processes, 3) uniquely, as it appears for now, on one planet, intelligent design fits the bill.