Scientists find ‘world’s oldest’ biological colours

Mindy Sparks
July 10, 2018

"These pink pigments, their exact structure and composition tells us there was an efficient energy food source missing at the base of the food web", he said. This colorful remnant suggests that ancient sunlight-eating organisms cast a pink tint to a long-gone ocean, lead study author Nur Gueneli, of the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University (ANU), said in a statement. The bright pink color is believed to be more than half a billion years older than other prehistoric pigments. In concentrated form, the fossils range in color from deep blood red to a deep purple.

Australian researchers have uncovered the world's oldest biological colour in the Sahara desert, in a find they said today helped explain why complex life forms only recently emerged on earth.

That chlorophyll was produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms that inhabited an ancient ocean that vanished eons ago.

Researchers described their discovery of ancient pigments in the journal PNAS. The team then extracted and analyzed the rocks' powdered form.

The extraction of the pigments required the billion-year-old rocks to be crushed into a powder.

An analysis of the pigments found they had been produced by cyanobacteria in the seas at the time.

At first, scientists thought it had to do with a lack of oxygen, but it turns out that may not be the case. More sophisticated life forms, however, began appearing 600 million years ago. The discovery of the ancient bright pink, however, can change this narrative.

Senior lead researcher Jochen Brocks, a professor at ANU, explained that the emergence of large, active organisms was likely restrained by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae.

Gueneli said the study told scientists a great deal about life on earth more than a billion years ago. In fact, the ancient oceans that were once dominated by the cyanobacterial started to disappear when algae became prevalent.

"[It provided] the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth", he said.

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