Discovery offers clues to origin of life

A new discovery of microbial activity in 3.5 billion-year-old volcanic rock and one of earth’s earliest signs of geological existence sheds new light on the antiquity of life, say researchers. “People have been looking for signs of early bacteria for the last 50 years,” said Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs, from the University of Alberta. “A variety have claimed they’ve seen it and subsequently been challenged as being flawed. We are suggesting that we have clear evidence of life prospering in an environment where no one else has bothered to look.”From the University of Alberta:Discovery offers clues to origin of life

A new discovery of microbial activity in 3.5 billion-year-old volcanic rock and one of earth’s earliest signs of geological existence sheds new light on the antiquity of life, says University of Alberta researchers who are part of a team that made the groundbreaking finding.

“People have been looking for signs of early bacteria for the last 50 years,” said Dr. Karlis Muehlenbachs, from the U of A’s Faculty of Science and an author on the paper just published in the journal Science. “A variety have claimed they’ve seen it and subsequently been challenged as being flawed. We are suggesting that we have clear evidence of life prospering in an environment where no one else has bothered to look.”

The research team, also made up of Drs. Harald Furnes from the University of Bergen in Norway, Neil Banerjee from the U of A, Hubert Staudigel from the University of California and Maarten de Wit from the University of Cape Town, studied samples of pillow lava taken from the Mesoarchean Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. They found mineralized tubes that were formed in the pillow lava, suggesting microbes colonized basaltic glass of the early oceanic crust, much in the same way as they do modern volcanic glass.

This evidence of life in the basaltic glass on the seafloor comes in the form of textures produced by microbes as they dissolve the glass, said Banerjee. “These textures include channels or tubes produced by the microbe as it tunnels through the glass, possibly using the glass as a source of nutrients,” he said. “We have also found traces of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium-all essential to life-as well as DNA associated with the microbial alternation textures in the recent basaltic glass samples.”

The team then compared its $3.5 billion-year-old samples to the modern pillow lava on the seafloor using several sophisticated tests and was able to find much evidence of life. To date the microbial activity, the team compared the relationship between the tubular structures and the metamorphic mineral growth.

“On the microscopic level, we see that during metamorphism, the new minerals cross cut the preserved biological features,” said Muehlenbachs. “This means that the biological features pre date the metamorphism, leading to the conclusion that the microbes were attacking the glass 3.48 billion years ago-very soon after the glass chilled and lasting a few million years, perhaps until the usual geological processes buried and cooked them.”

Despite challenges to previous research claiming evidence of life activity, this research team is certain its evidence is solid. “In other discoveries, there has been much discussion and argument about the rock type and where it came from,” said Muehlenbachs. “Everyone agrees our rock is from the sea floor-that’s a sure thing. Ultimately that leads to the question of where did life start and where did it originate. And we could argue fairly effectively that maybe there is a link with the origin of life in our work.”

Another interesting aspect to the research, said Muehlenbachs, is that the rock type they studied is the same as on the surface of Mars. “Martian rocks would also have glass that would retain a record of life activity-we could learn a lot from them as well.”

1 thought on “Discovery offers clues to origin of life”

  1. There are now several books and theories about the phenomenon of life, its origin and diversification. All of them tell us the same story that life is indefinable. There is also a branch of science Biology exclusively concerned with the study of life. But biology does not define life. Darwin wrote about the origin of species without knowing what life is and what species is. Genetics is all about the gene; but geneticists do not know what the gene is. We are now trying to search for life of the kind we know of or of a different kind, on other planets without understanding the life we are familiar with. All these are facts. There is just one reason for all these problems. Whether one agrees or not, life (and death) can be scientifically defined in conjunction with the Quran. The details are given in my recently published two books: 1) The Computer Universe – A Scientific Rendering of the Holy Quran, (423 pages) and 2) The Great Gene Fiasco – The Quran Defines Life (pages 113). Both books were published by Adam Publishers, New Delhi, India.

    An organism is a natural computer biosystem. A cell is a biochip with both hardware (all chemical structures including genome) and software (genetic program). Genetic program (biological information) is stored in the chromosome which is the storage device (memory) of the cell. The biological software is invisible like the software stored in our computers. Based on this reasoning it can be said that the particulate gene concept is wrong. Molecular geneticists are following erroneously a chemical trail for understanding the basis of life. More correctly, biologists are trying to find a hardware solution for a software problem. Genetics, molecular biology etc. are generating junk by treating the protein synthesis apparatus (genome) of the cell as genetic program. It is in fact the particulate gene concept that hinders the progress of life sciences.

    The Quran defines death as the removal (deletion) of nafs (the software or the genetic program) from the body. Hence the dead body is like a computer without software (although the genome is in tact). Life is thus the manifestation of the execution of the genetic program (nafs, the software). From this, it can also be deduced that our computers, robots are forms of “artificial life” (man-made software).

    P.A. Wahid
    Email: pawahid@hotmail.com

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