March 3, 2017
Hope For Life On Mars: Earliest Earth Life Discovered At 3.8 Billion Years Old

The search for life on Mars can in ways be tied to the search for ancient living and fossilized organisms on Earth, and a recent discovery in Canada has given new hope for finding alien life for those who search for it on Mars. The new discovery, if confirmed, would place the newest fossilized organisms as the earliest Earth life yet uncovered. And it is just that -- the ancient age of the fossils -- that provides even more hope for those searching for life on Mars.

A team of expert researchers led by Matthew Dodd of University College London (UCL) discovered what could be 3.77 billion year old fossil microbes, which would be some 300 million years older than any previous estimates of when life began on Earth. The microbes were found in an ancient sea floor site located along the eastern shore of Canada's Hudson Bay and are believed to be mineralized bacteria that prevailed in between 3.77 and 4.28 billion years ago. The team says, according to the Daily Mail, that the microbe fossils suggest that there could still be evidence of life on Mars.

Microscopic filaments and tubes were discovered within a rock type called jasper. Made up of an iron oxide called hematite, each strand might contain a series of cells. The microbes lived near a hydrothermal vent in the ancient seafloor where water was heated by a volcano, according to Dodd.

And since the fossils are nearly the age of the Earth, which scientists say formed some 4.5 billion years ago, the Hudson Bay finding supports prior evidence that life may have begun in such an environment.

The jasper rocks, believed to originate from hydrothermal vents, were analyzed by the team and were found in the Nuvvuagittuq belt in northeastern Canada. The Nuvvuagittuq belt itself is representative of the Earth's early oceanic crust and is "consistent with a submarine setting," the researchers said in the study.

The tubal and filament structures discovered were consistent with structures attributed to bacterial life found in other hydrothermal vent environments.

Map of Hudson Bay, Earth
If confirmed, the oldest evidence of life on Earth will have been found in the fossil record at Hudson Bay in Canada. [Image by untitled/Shutterstock]

"Modern hydrothermal vent deposits host communities of microorganisms, some of which are iron-oxidizing bacteria that form distinctive tubes and filaments," the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the journal Nature.

"Epifluorescence imaging [microscopes that use fluorescence to generate an image] of modern vent samples has shown that cylindrical casts composed of iron oxyhydroxide are formed by bacterial cells and are undeniably biogenic. Hence, morphologically similar tubes and filaments in ancient jaspers may be taken as biosignatures that can survive elevated temperatures and pressures."
The research, the expert team believes, indicates that alien life could very well exist on other planets.

red bacteria filament microbes
Life on Mars may exist in the form of bacteria microbes. [Image by Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock]

"These discoveries demonstrate life developed on Earth at a time when Mars and Earth had liquid water at their surfaces," Matthew Dodd said, "posing exciting questions for extra-terrestrial life. Therefore, we expect to find evidence for past life on Mars 4,000 million years ago, or if not, Earth may have been a special exception."

There were additional features also preserved in the rocks, like iron oxide granules and carbonate rosettes. The features, according to the researchers, point to biological activity. The team wrote: "Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3,770 million years ago."

The Daily Mail suggested that the findings complement a recent report -- also published in Nature -- about stromatolites, which are geological structures made by microbial colonies. The structures were found in rocks in Greenland dating 3.7 billion years old.

The stromatolites formed in areas where the sea water was warmed by the Sun. Both the geological structures and the signs of life from ancient hydrothermal vents indicate life colonized the sea at all levels as far back as around the time the Earth was around a billion years old.

As for a similar Mars connection, a recent study by SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute astrobiologist Janice Bishop indicated that alien life -- microbes -- might be found on the Red Planet being protected by hematite. As reported by the Inquisitr, research has suggested that the iron oxide, which is prevalent on Mars, could act as a "sunscreen" for the microbes.

[Featured Image by Alim/Shutterstock]