Earth's oldest biological colour discovered in rocks beneath Sahara Desert

11 Juillet, 2018, 18:55 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The colour. Image ANU

Scientists believe they have discovered the oldest colours in the world and they are bright pink.

An global team of scientists discovered the oldest color in the geological record in rocks beneath the Sahara desert: the bright pink pigment aged 1.1 billion years old.

"The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago", Gueneli said in a statement.

It was first announced in the journal PNAS that the discovered fossils reportedly range from a dark blood red to a deep purple, when diluted these become bright pink. The bacteria are thought to be an incredible 1.1 billion years old.

ANU PhD student, Dr Nur Gueneli, discovered the pigments after running an organic solvent through the powdered rock.

The BBC reports that the pigment comes from the chlorophyll of fossilized cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, whose pigment molecules have survived eons in the ground.

The pigments found were produced by photosynthetic organisms that inhabited an ancient ocean.

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And that pigment was a fetching shade of pink.

Brocks explained this is an ancient process, but piecing together major events in Earth's geological history helped them date their color discovery.

In 1993, shale deposited some time during the Cambrian around half a billion years ago was considered the oldest example of molecular building blocks of chlorophyll called porphyrins.

Considering oxygen levels started to rise around 3.4 billion years ago, that earlier find still left us with a big gap in fossil evidence of sunlight-harvesting pigments. That algae provided the "burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth", he said.

Senior lead researcher Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from The Australian National University said that the emergence of large, active organisms was likely to have been restrained by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae.

The team of researchers from Australia, Japan and the United States of America 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. While algae is microscopic, it is many thousands of times larger than cyanobacteria making for a much richer food source.

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