Scientists Discover ‘Ingredients For Life’ in 3.5 Billion-Year-Old Rocks in Australia

Researchers have identified natural molecules trapped in exceptionally historic rock formations in Australia, revealing what they say is the initial comprehensive evidence of early chemical elements that could have underpinned Earth’s primeval microbial existence-kinds.


The discovery, built in the 3.5-billion-12 months-aged Dresser Formation of Western Australia’s Pilbara Craton, provides to a substantial entire body of exploration pointing to historical life in this section of the planet – which represents 1 of only two pristine, exposed deposits of land on Earth relationship again to the Archean Eon.

In the latest years, the hydrothermal rock of the Dresser Development has turned up recurring indicators of what appears to be the earliest recognised lifetime on land, with scientists exploring “definitive proof” of microbial biosignatures relationship again to 3.5 billion decades back.

Now, in a new examine, researchers in Germany have discovered traces of unique chemistry that could have enabled such primordial organisms to exist, finding biologically appropriate natural molecules contained inside barite deposits, a mineral formed through various processes, including hydrothermal phenomena.

“In the subject, the barites are right linked with fossilised microbial mats, and they smell like rotten eggs when freshly scratched,” explains geobiologist Helge Mißbach from the College of Cologne in Germany.

“Hence, we suspected that they contained organic and natural substance that might have served as vitamins for early microbial life.”

010 dresser organic 2Barite rock from the Dresser Formation. (Helge Mißbach)

While scientists have extended hypothesised about how organic molecules could act as substrates for primeval microbes and their metabolic procedures, immediate proof has to day confirmed mainly elusive.

To investigate, Mißbach and fellow researchers examined inclusions within barites from the Dresser Development, with the chemically secure mineral able of preserving fluids and gases inside of the rock for billions of many years.


Employing a selection of techniques to analyse the barite samples – together with fuel chromatography-mass spectrometry, microthermometry, and stable isotope examination, the scientists identified what they explain as an “intriguing variety of natural molecules with identified or inferred metabolic relevance”.

Among the these ended up the organic and natural compounds acetic acid and methanethiol, in addition to quite a few gases, including hydrogen sulfide, that could have had biotic or abiotic origins.

010 dresser organic 2(Mißbach et al., Mother nature Communications, 2021)

Over: The Barite rock, indicating shut affiliation to stromatolites.

Even though it may possibly be impossible to be guaranteed of the precise links, the near proximity of these inclusions inside of the barite rock and adjacent organic and natural accretions referred to as stromatolites suggests that the ancient chemical compounds, once carried within hydrothermal fluids, could have affected primeval microbial communities.

“In fact, several compounds found out in the barite-hosted fluid inclusions … would have furnished perfect substrates for the sulfur-centered and methanogenic microbes formerly proposed as players in the Dresser atmosphere,” the scientists create in their review.

In addition to chemical substances that might have acted as vitamins or substrates, other compounds observed inside of the inclusions may possibly have served as ‘building blocks’ for different carbon-based chemical reactions – processes that could have kickstarted microbial fat burning capacity, by producing power sources, this kind of as lipids, that could be broken down by everyday living-kinds.

“In other terms, essential components of methyl thioacetate, a proposed critical agent in the emergence of life, were available in the Dresser environments,” the crew points out.

“They may possibly have conveyed the developing blocks for chemoautotrophic carbon fixation and, consequently, anabolic uptake of carbon into biomass.”

The results are documented in Nature Communications.