Origins of Life? Scientists Argue Over World’s Oldest Fossils in Canada

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Ancient Fossils Found in Quebec, Canada

Scientists have discovered what may be the world’s oldest fossils, in Canada, at least 3.77 billion years old. They say these offer the oldest direct evidence for life on the planet.

The discovery is comprised of tiny filaments and tubes formed by bacteria that lived on iron called haematite. This iron oxide is one of the most common minerals on Earth.

The microfossils were found in quartz layers in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt in Quebec, Canada, a prominent place where some of the Earth’s oldest known sedimentary rocks are found.

The scientists believe these microfossils are the remains of bacteria that once thrived underwater around hydrothermal vents. These microfossils depended on chemical reactions involving iron for their energy.

And the most wonderful thing about this new discovery is that it offers insights into the origins of life on Earth.

This is confirmed by Matthew Dodd, a researcher at UCL Earth Sciences and the London Center for Nanotechnology and one of the report’s authors, He said, “Our discovery supports the idea that life emerged from hot, seafloor vents shortly after planet Earth formed.”

Aside from that, with iron-oxidising bacteria present even today, the findings, if correct, also highlight the success of such organisms.

This new discovery was published in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers.

world's oldest fossils.
An unearthed fossil.

Perfect Rocks to Look for Evidence of Life

The team of scientists believe the rocks in the Greenstone Belt in Northern Quebec are the perfect rocks to search for earliest evidence of life. These rocks are some of the oldest in the world that existed billions of years ago. The fossils appear in rock as red or white layers.

Dood said, “These rocks were of a period in time when we don’t know whether there was life.

The scientist added, “If we believe the long-standing hypothesis that life evolved from hydrothermal vents billions of years ago then these were the perfect rocks to look at for answering these questions.”

Not All Are Convinced

Amid the dazzling new discovery of these microfossils found in Canada, not all scientists are convinced by the team’s findings.

William Martin, head of the Molecular Evolution Institute at Dusseldorf’s Heinrich Heine University, told CNN he is “unconvinced that this is biological material. There is no clear cut evidence that these were made by biology. It’s not good enough that these things look like cells.”

Frances Westall, an expert on ancient fossil bacteria at the French national centre for scientific research was skeptical.

Westall asserted, “The thing that bothers me most about these structures is the fact that they all seem to be extremely oriented. They are parallel to each other and microbes don’t grow parallel to each other.”

Westall said it remains possible that the haematite structures were formed as a result of the high temperatures and pressures experienced by metamorphic rocks.

However, amid the questioning reactions for this new discovery, one scientist is optimistic about its positive outcome.

Dominic Papineau, the study’s lead author, hopes that the team’s findings will eventually be accepted by the whole scientific community.

We have been very specific with our nine independent lines of evidence,” he told CNN. With this research, he added, “we have certainly documented evidence of early life better than anyone else.”

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.