World's oldest colours shed light on mystery of life on Earth

Scientists Trace'World's Oldest Colours From Africa

While chlorophyll itself is green, these building blocks tend to come in strong shades of reds and purples - hence why this latest fossilised pigment comes in pink.

An global team led by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) extracted 1.1-billion-year-old bright pink pigments from ancient rocks deep below the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, West Africa.

Except it wasn't gold - it was bright pink.

The researchers crushed the billion-year-old rocks to powder, before extracting and analysing molecules of ancient organisms from them.

The organic pigments come from oil shale deposits drilled by an energy exploration company in the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa, about ten years ago.

In the 1960s there were reports of similar fossils uncovered from rocks up to several billion years old, but these days they've generally been dismissed as unreliable.

Upon analysis, Gueneli said the ancient pigment resulted from molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were processed by ancient photosynthetic organisms that once ruled the oceans.

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You can read all about the findings in their study here.

The team of researchers from Australia, Japan and the US 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.

The size of the cyanobacteria, however, was so minute that they were not sufficient for larger organisms such as animals. Other recent studies, however, indicate that there was enough oxygen around for 1 billion years before complex life emerged.

We know surprisingly little about what the Earth might have been like a billion (or more) years ago.

Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from ANU stated that the discovery of large, active organisms within the rocks were most likely to have been restrained by larger food particles such as algae.

"[It provided] the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth", he said. Dr. Brocks stated: "Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source". In fact, the ancient oceans that were once dominated by the cyanobacterial started to disappear when algae became prevalent.

The first animals, which are either sponges or some sort of comb jelly, didn't appear until roughly 600 million years ago.

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