Scientists have discovered a fascinating lost world teeming with ancient life forms in the billion-year-old rocks of northern Australia. Researchers have made remarkable findings that could revolutionize our knowledge of humanity’s earliest origins.
These minute organisms, referred to as Protosterol Biota, belong to eukaryotes and thrived in Earth’s water systems approximately 1.6 billion years ago.
Eukaryotes: the organisms in the billion-year-old Australian rocks
Eukaryotes, which are organisms with a complex cell structure, possess essential components like mitochondria, often referred to as the cell’s “powerhouse,” and a nucleus, which acts as the “control and information center” of the cell.
Among the diverse range of eukaryotes are familiar organisms: fungi, plants, animals, and even single-celled creatures like amoebae.
When we delve into the ancestral lineage of humans and other organisms with nuclei, we can trace it back to the last common ancestors of eukaryotes (LECA), which lived over 1.2 billion years ago.
The recent discoveries of ancient organisms found in the billion-year-old Australian rocks appear to be the oldest remnants of our own lineage. These ancient organisms existed even before the emergence of LECA.
Benjamin Nettersheim, who completed his PhD at the Australian National University (ANU) and is currently affiliated with the University of Bremen in Germany, made this significant observation.
He said, “These ancient creatures were abundant in marine ecosystems across the world and probably shaped ecosystems for much of Earth’s history.”
Decade of dedicated research
After a decade of dedicated research by scientists from the Australian National University (ANU), the remarkable discovery of the Protosterol Biota has finally come to light. The findings were recently published in the esteemed scientific journal Nature.
‘We believe they may have been the first predators on Earth, hunting and devouring bacteria,” the professor said.
Leading the research effort alongside Benjamin Nettersheim, Jochen Brocks from ANU explained that the Protosterol Biota exhibited a higher complexity level than bacteria.
Although their physical appearance remains a mystery, these ancient organisms are believed to be larger than bacteria.
Collaborative efforts of the scientists
A team of researchers hailing from Australia, France, Germany, and the United States embarked on a collaborative effort to examine fossilized fat molecules. These molecules were discovered within a billion-year-old rock formation that had originated in the ancient ocean near what is presently known as Australia’s Northern Territory.
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The Northern Territory of Australia is renowned for its exceptionally preserved sedimentary rocks, which date back to Earth’s Middle Ages, specifically the mid-Proterozoic period.
These rocks are the oldest known rocks on our planet that contain biomarkers, providing valuable insights into the ancient history of life.
Upon closer examination, the researchers increased their knowledge of the molecular composition significantly. They discovered that these molecules possessed a primitive chemical structure, suggesting the presence of ancient complex organisms that had thrived and evolved before the emergence of the last common ancestors of eukaryotes (LECA).
Regrettably, these early life forms have long vanished from the face of the Earth!
Organisms lived here 1.6 Million years ago
According to Brocks, it is believed that these organisms flourished on Earth from approximately 1.6 billion years ago to around 800 million years ago.
This time frame marks a vital period known as the Tonian Transformation, during which more advanced life forms like fungi and algae began to thrive. However, the exact timeline for the Protosterol Biota’s extinction remains uncertain.