NEW YORK — Tiny tubes and filaments in some Canadian rock appear to be the oldest known fossils, giving new support to some ideas about how life began, a new study says.
The features are mineralized remains of what appear to be bacteria that lived some 3.77 billion to 4.28 billion years ago, the scientists said. That would surpass the 3.7 billion years assigned to some other rock features found in Greenland, which were proposed to be fossils last August.
Such early-life findings are not as clear-cut as, say, digging up a dinosaur bone. The key question is always whether the rock features were really produced by living things.
The new results come from examining rock found along the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec. The microscopic filaments and tubes, composed of an iron oxide called hematite, appeared within a rock type called jasper. A single strand may represent a chain of cells.
Matthew Dodd of University College London, who is an author of the study published Wednesday by Nature, said that the microbes lived near a vent in the seafloor where water was heated by a volcano.
Since the fossil are nearly as old as Earth, which formed some 4.5 billion years ago, the finding supports previous indications that life may have begun in such an environment, he said.