London: Rafts of volcanic rock could have played a significant role in the emergence of some of the earliest organisms on Earth, scientists have said.
Researchers say the buoyant rock pumice has the right properties to have provided the conditions for early life to emerge more than 3.5bn years ago.
“During its life cycle, pumice is potentially exposed to - among other things - lightning associated with volcanic eruptions, oily hydrocarbons and metals produced by hydrothermal vents, and ultraviolet light from the Sun as it floats on water,” the BBC quoted co-author Professor Martin Brasier from the University of Oxford, as saying.
“All these conditions have the potential to host, or even generate, the kind of chemical processes that we think created the first living cells.”
The volcanic rock floats on water because it has the largest surface-area-to-volume ratio of any type of rock, which would have allowed it to act as a raft collecting material before becoming beached on a shore.
Another of the scientists involved, Dr David Wacey from the University of Western Australia, said that it was known that that life was “thriving” among beach sand grains some 3.4bn years ago.
“What we are saying here is that certain kinds of beach might have provided a cradle for life,” he said.
The study will be published in the journal Astrobiology.