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Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates

Dodd, MS; Papineau, D; Greene, T; Slack, JF; Rittner, M; Pirajno, F; O'Neil, J; (2017) Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates. Nature , 546 pp. 60-64. 10.1038/nature21377. Green open access

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Abstract

Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we report putative fossilised microorganisms at least 3770 and possibly 4290 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Canada. These structures occur as micron-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to filamentous microbes from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes, magnetite-haematite granules, and associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils. Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidised biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3770 million years ago.

Type: Article
Title: Evidence for early life in Earth’s oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1038/nature21377
Publisher version: http://doi.org/doi:10.1038/nature21377
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
Keywords: Carbon cycle, Palaeoecology, Palaeontology, Astrobiology
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Earth Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > London Centre for Nanotechnology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1536298
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