Researchers uncover the world's oldest biological colour
Researchers uncover the world's oldest biological colour
Earth's oldest biological colour discovered in rocks beneath Sahara Desert
11 July, 2018, 18:57
But one thing they can't do is reveal what color the creatures were. The researchers ground up the shale and were able to isolate the pigment that was present in the bacteria, noting that it shines a brilliant pink when held up to sunlight.
Scientists from Australia, Japan and the USA discovered the prehistoric shades after crushing down rocks extracted from deep beneath the Sahara desert, in the Taoudeni basin in Mauritania, West Africa.
The pigments taken from marine black shales of the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa, were more than half a billion years older than previous pigment discoveries. The presence of the surviving pigment, however, was a complete surprise.
Dr Gueneli discovered the molecules as part of her PhD studies. Instead the solvent turned pink.
Gueneli and Brocks teamed up with researchers from the US, Japan, Belgium and Geoscience Australia to detail their findings in a report, which was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal online on Monday.
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"She came running into my office and said, 'look at this, ' and she had this bright pink stuff. It turned out to be real pigment, 1.1 billion years old". Researchers say that these bright pink pigments are molecular fossils of chlorophyll.
In their concentrated form, the pigments ranged from blood red to deep purple, going bright pink when diluted. That's about 600 million years older than similar chlorophyll fossils found previously, scientists reported in the new study. "Imagine you could find a fossilized dinosaur skin that still has its original color, green or blue. that is exactly the type of discovery that we've made". It is a molecule that had a biological colour more than a billion years ago and still has one today. If that's the case, then something else was the limiting factor. In fact, the ancient oceans that were once dominated by the cyanobacterial started to disappear when algae became prevalent.
The team of researchers from Australia, Japan and the U.S. also were able to use the pigments to confirm that ancient marine ecosystems were dominated by tiny cyanobacteria, a type of bacteria that obtains energy through photosynthesis.
"Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source", said Brocks, who works in the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.
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