Sunday, March 30, 2008

Discovery Of Oldest Known Traces Of Mineralization Caused By Micro-organisms

Another stromatolite story! The picture is another large block of stromatolites from Glacier National Park (Snowslip Formation).

ScienceDaily (Mar. 30, 2008) — An old controversy has finally been laid to rest. Stromatolites, cauliflower-shaped carbonate rocks that are found in abundance in geological formations, including ones that are several billion years old, show definite evidence of ancient biological activity. This has just been shown by researchers at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris (CNRS/Universit√© Paris 7), thanks to detailed analysis of 2.7 billion-year-old rocks from cores drilled in Australia. Previously, the oldest known traces of mineralization caused by micro-organisms were only 350 million years old.

Until now, most scientists agreed that fossil stromatolites were connected with the activity of photosynthesizing micro-organisms, as is the case in present-day environments(1). This hypothesis was based on morphological criteria, which appeared to suffice for recent fossil rocks (several million years old) formed in environments similar to today’s. However, this was not the case for older stromatolites (2.5 to 4 billion years old), which developed under very different conditions and for which researchers have proposed (and tested numerically) models of mineral growth in the presence of water.

The researchers collected unaltered fossil stromatolites as part of a drilling project (the Pilbara Drilling Project(2)), funded by CNRS’s National Institute of Earth and Astronomical Sciences and the Institut de Physique du Globe, in the Tumbiana formation in Australia. By using a very high resolution characterization method (of around 10 nanometers), they were able to discover and analyze small globules of organic matter containing nanocrystals of aragonite. It is known that present-day bacteria cause the precipitation of aragonite, a very unstable polymorph of calcium carbonate which rapidly changes into calcite once the micro-organisms die. Thanks to these findings, researchers now have irrefutable proof of microbial mediation in the formation of ancient stromatolites.

From: Centre National De La Recherche Scientifique. "Discovery Of Oldest Known Traces Of Mineralization Caused By Micro-organisms." ScienceDaily 30 March 2008. 30 March 2008.

Notes :

1) for instance, at Shark Bay, Australia

2) see the article Drilling the Outback (backstory), in the same issue of the journal Nature Géoscience, which describes the drilling expedition

Journal reference: Microbially influenced formation of 2,724-million-year-old stromatolites, Kevin Lepot, Karim Benzerara, Gordon E. Brown Jr and Pascal Philippot, Nature Geosciences, online publication 28 January 2008.



Travis said...

There are some issues with this article...
1. I've never known of any debate about the formation of the oldest stromatolites and I've been reading about them for some time now.
2. "the oldest known traces of mineralization caused by micro-organisms were only 350 million years old."
Um...Cambrian explosion=542Ma yet...oldest known traces of micro-organisms 350Ma. mmmmyeah.

Oh and the 4- whatever Ga. Wouldn't it be nice if we had anything biotic that was that old.

My Conclusion: Someone's a bad writer and someone else should lose their job as editor...

ReBecca said...

LOL, the joy of translating a journal article into a popular science article.