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New research questions evidence for earliest life on earth

d. Fedo and Whitehouse liken the process of making the fine layering akin to stretching a lump of bubble gum into a thin strand.

A chemical study of the rocks also points away from a BIF origin for the banded rock. Analyses of the green bands show that the composition is very similar to a primitive rock called komatiite, a relative of basalt, which formed as molten rock solidified. Such rocks form at temperatures far too high for living organisms, hence there is little chance that the preserved graphite represents past life. The white layers are thought to be veins of quartz that were subsequently introduced into the green bands.

Recent studies of hydrothermal vents on mid-ocean ridges have also shown that basalt-like rocks can interact with water to form carbon compounds by non-biological processes, leaving an isotopic signature similar to that of metabolic function. While it is possible life existed on Earth when the rocks on Akilia formed, direct evidence for life older than approximately 3.8 billion years ago is still lacking.

No one knows when life on Earth originated. The earliest history of the Earth is one dominated by many violent asteroid impacts, some of which would have been capable of entirely boiling off all water on the planet, including the oceans, and sterilizing the planet of all life.

Such a scenario suggests that life may have originated and been exterminated a number of times before the last major impact, which perhaps occurred around 3.8 billion years ago, near the time when the rocks on Akilia solidified.

From a first impression of their great age, these rocks then represent an ideal target for studying the remains of the earliest life on Earth.

However, the study by Fedo and Whitehouse, along with a recent study about the claimed earliest body fossils, indicates that discovering a preserved relic of the earliest life on Earth remains elusive, and that great caution is warranted in working with sa
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Contact: Bob Ludwig
bludwig@gwu.edu
202-994-3566
George Washington University
23-May-2002


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