Geoboffins claim to find oldest trace of life in rocks 4bn years old

It could hint at the possibilities of life on other planets early on in their development

Scientists claim to have found the oldest evidence of life on Earth – contained in Canadian rocks 3.95 billion years ago, when our planet had no oxygen and was being pelted by asteroids.

A paper published on Thursday in Nature describes grains of graphite found encased in a rock structure called the Saglek Block along the Torngat Mountains in Labrador, northeast Canada. The paper's authors inspected the amount of carbon-12 and carbon-13 in the graphite sample to work out whether or not there were any remnants of microbes.

Looking for carbon-12 versus carbon-13 can be very revealing. Carbon-12 is pretty good – better than carbon-13, anyway – at forming molecules essential to life, such as proteins and carbohydrates. When living organisms die, their carbon-12 atoms can be preserved in rocks. If there's a lot of carbon-12 compared to carbon-13, it's likely there was something alive there.

The team found that the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in the graphite grains were higher than normal, suggesting that life existed when the rock was some 3.95 billion years ago.

To make sure that the graphite sample really is 3.95 billion years old and not a mixture of old and new graphite, the scientists calculated the temperature range at which the carbon formed.

Graphite granules that look more organised and crystalline are forged at higher temperatures. The scientists calculated that the sample found in the Saglek Block were created between 536oC (996.9oF) to 622 oC (1151.6oF) - a similar range at which the surrounding metamorphic rocks were made too, which hints that the graphite already existed when the rocks were created too.

Earth is estimated to be around 4.5 billion years old. The previous record for ancient life on Earth was also found in Canada in iron and silica rich rocks in Quebec, estimated to contain the remains of bacteria that roamed some 3.77 billion years ago.

Tsuyoshi Komiya, co-author of the paper and a researcher at the University of Tokyo, Japan, said the next step to determining if the graphite is biogenic will involve analysing “other isotopes such as nitrogen, sulphur and iron of the organic matter and accompanied minerals to identify the kinds of organisms," said Komiya of the next step.

"In addition, we can estimate the environment" in which the organisms lived by analysing the chemical composition of the rock itself.

Finding signs of life so early on when the planet was in extreme conditions when it was less than a billion years old might also “provide insight into early life not only on Earth but also on other planets,” the paper concluded. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Deepfake attacks can easily trick live facial recognition systems online
    Plus: Next PyTorch release will support Apple GPUs so devs can train neural networks on their own laptops

    In brief Miscreants can easily steal someone else's identity by tricking live facial recognition software using deepfakes, according to a new report.

    Sensity AI, a startup focused on tackling identity fraud, carried out a series of pretend attacks. Engineers scanned the image of someone from an ID card, and mapped their likeness onto another person's face. Sensity then tested whether they could breach live facial recognition systems by tricking them into believing the pretend attacker is a real user.

    So-called "liveness tests" try to authenticate identities in real-time, relying on images or video streams from cameras like face recognition used to unlock mobile phones, for example. Nine out of ten vendors failed Sensity's live deepfake attacks.

    Continue reading
  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022