World’s Oldest Color Discovered In Rocks Deep Beneath Sahara Desert

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

Global research led by the Australian National University (ANU) has resulted in the discovery of a 1.1-billion-year-old colour - the oldest in geological record.

"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.

He said this explained why Earth, which was about 4.6 billion years old, had only been home to larger, animal-like creatures for about the last 600 million years.

For their research, the scientists crushed the black shale into powder, before extracting and analyzing the molecules from the ancient organisms.

These pigments, according to Nur Gueneli of the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Earth Sciences, are the molecular fossils of chlorophyll, "produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished".

Chlorophyll is what gives modern plants their green color, though the fossilized chlorophyll in the cyanobacteria samples was dark red and deep purple in its concentrated form, the scientists reported.

A mining company had found the rocks in a marine shale deposit in the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa about 10 years ago, after drilling a hole several hundred metres deep, he said.

Researchers described their discovery of ancient pigments in the journal PNAS.

Earth is approximately 4 billion years old.

Their findings hint that cyanobacteria, bacteria that survive on sunlight, appeared much earlier than algae, which have been traced to around 650 million years ago. The discovery of the ancient bright pink, however, can change this narrative.

The evolution of larger, active organisms was likely held back by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae, at this time.

Gueneli said the study told scientists a great deal about life on earth more than a billion years ago. "When algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth".

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