Scientists Develop New Method for Studying Early Life in Ancient Rocks

This 2.1-billion-year-old sediment from a clay formation in Gabon has high concentrations of potassium, which could only have been caused by ancient microbes, according to new research. (Image: Photo courtesy of Abder El Albani)

Scientists have developed a new method for detecting traces of primordial life in ancient rock formations using potassium.

The method relies on searching for high concentrations of potassium in ancient sedimentary rocks, rather than traditional methods that look for carbon, sulfur, or nitrogen—which can appear in ancient rocks through processes unrelated to ancient life.

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University of Alberta microbiologist and geochemist Kurt Konhauser, who was a co-author on the study, explained:

The study examined clay particles from the Francevillian formation located in Gabon, on the west coast of central Africa. The 2.1-billion-year-old formation hosts well-preserved microfossils in clay. Konhauser explained:

The research was led by Jérémie Aubineau and Abder El Albani from the University of Poitiers in France. The study: Microbially Induced Potassium Enrichment in Paleoproterozoic Shales and Implications for Reverse Weathering on Early Earth, was published in Nature Communications.

Provided by: KATIE WILLIS, University of Alberta [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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