830-Million-Year-Old Organisms may be Alive in Ancient Rocks
Science continues to blow away society with the discoveries occurring at unseen paces...
Science has been advancing at paces never seen before. Because of this, discoveries have also been popping up at unseen paces and the newly discovered remnants of prokaryotic and algal life trapped inside crystals of halite which date back to 830 Million years ago are nothing short of amazing.
The discovery shows that rock salt can be a previously untapped resource for studying ancient saltwater environments. It also shows that the organisms inside may still be alive. A study was also conducted as the minerals were discovered and show the implications of studying ancient life in all known environments including those not at home (mars, etc).
Fluid inclusions from when the crystals form in a saltwater environment. This means that there are small amounts of fluid trapped inside and they’re remnants of the parent waters from which the halite crystallized. If you aren’t catching on by now, this is huge for society and scientists as these inclusions contain information about the water temperature, water chemistry, and even the atmospheric temperature at the time of mineral formation. Scientists have also found microorganisms living in recent and modern environments where halite forms.
The environments are usually extremely salty and microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and algae have still been found living.
The microorganisms have also been found in fluid inclusions in gypsum and halite. A handful of which date back to ancient times. The method of identifying these organisms has left doubts within the scientific community as to if they’re the same age as the halite.
"Therefore, a question has persisted amongst geomicrobiologists. What are the oldest chemical sedimentary rocks that contain prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms from the depositional environment?"
Sara Schreder-Gomes, of West Virginia University, and her team wrote.
Australia’s central lands are currently deserts but they once were salty seas. The Browne Formation is a stratigraphic unit originally from the central area of Australia and dates back to the Neoproterozoic including halite. Schreder-Gomes and her colleagues, using a core sample from the formation, were able to conduct research on the unaltered Neoproterozoic halite using invasive optical methods. The halite remained intact which means anything inside had to have been trapped at the time of crystal formation.
Organic solids and liquids were found inside consistent with prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells based on size, shape, and UV fluorescence. The range of which fluorescence showed was interesting as well as some showed colors consistent with organic decay while others demonstrated the same in modern organisms which is a showing of unaltered organic material.
The scientists noted that the fluid inclusions can serve as microhabitats for tiny colonies to thrive which means that some of the organisms are still alive. Living prokaryotes have been extracted from halite dating back 250 Million years. So, 830 Million isn’t a stretch.
"It has been suggested that radiation would destroy organic matter over long time periods, yet Nicastro et al. (2002) found that buried 250 million-year-old halite was exposed to only negligible amounts of radiation. Additionally, microorganisms may survive in fluid inclusions by metabolic changes, including starvation survival and cyst stages, and coexistence with organic compounds or dead cells that could serve as nutrient sources."
This is massive news for Elon Musk as Mars has been known to contain these sorts of deposits which have similar compositions to the Browne Formation. These scientists did the work to show how organisms can be identified without disrupting the samples thus giving society a new set of tools to understand the history of Earth and to prepare for the future.
"Optical examination should be considered a fundamental step in any study of biosignatures in ancient rocks. It allows the geologic context of microorganisms to be known prior to further chemical or biological analyses … and it provides a target for such analyses. Ancient chemical sediments, both of terrestrial and extraterrestrial origin, should be considered potential hosts for ancient microorganisms and organic compounds."
The team concluded.
The research has been published in Geology.