Scientists find oldest signs of life on land in Australia

The finding could help solve one of the most important debates in evolution - whether life on Earth arose in small, terrestrial ponds, or deep in the ocean, researchers said.

Last Updated: May 10, 2017, 16:31 PM IST

New Delhi: The earliest evidence of life on land has been discovered in 3.48 billion-year-old hot spring deposits in Australia, say scientists.

The finding could help solve one of the most important debates in evolution - whether life on Earth arose in small, terrestrial ponds, or deep in the ocean, researchers said.

Previously, the world's oldest evidence for microbial life on land came from 2.7-2.9 billion-year-old deposits in South Africa containing organic matter-rich ancient soils.

Scientists at University of New South Wales (UNSW) have now discovered fossils in 3.48 billion year old hot spring deposits in the Pilbara region of Western Australia that have pushed back by 580 million years the earliest known existence of microbial life on land.

"Our exciting findings do not just extend back the record of life living in hot springs by 3 billion years, they indicate that life was inhabiting the land much earlier than previously thought, by up to about 580 million years," said UNSW PhD candidate Tara Djokic.

"This may have implications for an origin of life in freshwater hot springs on land, rather than the more widely discussed idea that life developed in the ocean and adapted to land later," said Djokic, first author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Scientists are considering two hypotheses regarding the origin of life. Either that it began in deep sea hydrothermal vents, or alternatively that it began on land in a version of English biologist Charles Darwin's "warm little pond".

"The discovery of potential biological signatures in these ancient hot springs in Western Australia provides a geological perspective that may lend weight to a land-based origin of life," said Djokic.

The finding also has major implications for the search for life on Mars, because the red planet has ancient hot spring deposits of a similar age to the Dresser Formation in the Pilbara, researchers said.

(With Agency inputs)