Ancient molecules may show first glimpse of life after Earth's ice-covered history.
Around 635 to 720 million years ago, during Earth’s most severe glacial period, the Earth was twice almost completely covered by ice, according to current hypotheses. The question of how life survived these ‘Snowball Earth’ glaciations, lasting up to about 50 million years, has occupied the most eminent scientists for many decades. An international team, led by Dutch and German researchers of the Max Planck Society, now found the first detailed glimpse of life after the ‘Snowball' in the form of newly discovered ancient molecules, buried in old rocks.
‘All higher animal life forms, including us humans, produce cholesterol. Algae and bacteria produce their own characteristic fat molecules.’ says first author Lennart van Maldegem from Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biogeochemistry, who recently moved to the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. ‘Such fat molecules can survive in rocks for millions of years, as the oldest (chemical) remnants of organisms, and tell us now what type of life thrived in the former oceans long ago’.
But the fossil fats the researchers recently discovered in Brazilian rocks, deposited just after the last Snowball glaciation, were not what they suspected.
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