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News > Science and Tech

Samples of Oldest Life Forms Found in Australia

  • Stromatolites at Lake Thetis, Western Australia.

    Stromatolites at Lake Thetis, Western Australia. | Photo: Wiki Commons

Published 15 November 2017

Researchers have uncovered living samples of stromatolites, the oldest life forms on Earth, that provide a window into the planet’s biological history.

Deep within a World Heritage Area in Tasmania, Australia, remarkably well-preserved living stromatolite samples were found.

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These life forms are estimated to have seeded the planet nearly 3.7 billion years ago and provide crucial information about Earth’s biological and geological history that will aid researchers.

Along with being ancient life forms with their own research value, stromatolites also create rock-like structures through a process of absorbing mineral and sediments and then “cementing” these layers into place. This will help researchers understand Earth’s geological history and mineral composition in the distant past.

What makes these specimens so exceptional is the fact that they were found in an uncharacteristic environment. Stromatolites, while extremely rare, are usually only discovered in hypersaline waters such as Chile’s  Lagoa Salgada ("Salty Lake"), however, these specimens were found in freshwater wetlands in Tasmania.

Researchers from the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) made this discovery while on an expedition.

Researchers noted that the area where the specimens were found were highly conducive for stromatolites. The area is highly mineralized because of dead organisms in the wetlands, particularly snails, which are also predators of stromatolites, and is largely without human activity.

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“This is good for stromatolites because it means there are very few living snails to eat them. Fortuitously, these Tasmanian ‘living fossils’ are protected by the World Heritage Area and the sheer remoteness of the spring mounds,” said Bernadette Proemse, a geochemist at the University of Tasmania.

Stromatolites are found in areas of Western Australia such as Shark Bay but this would mark the first time that the ancient organisms have been found in Tasmania. Researchers hope to understand why the creatures were able to thrive for millions of years, which is evidenced by the Earth’s atmosphere that was fed oxygen through stromatolites undergoing photosynthesis, and suddenly vanished.

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