September 2, 2011
Volcanic Rafts Played Key Role In Origins Of Life
Scientists believe that volcanic rafts could have played a key role in the origins of life on Earth, reports BBC News.Researchers say the rock pumice has the right properties to have prodded the conditions for early life to emerge over 3.5 billion years ago.
The "rafts" are found today on shores of islands like the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera).
The Oxford University and University of Western Australia scientists said they still need more research to help give weight to the theory.
"During its life cycle, pumice is potentially exposed to - among other things - lightning associated with volcanic eruptions, oily hydrocarbons and metals produced by hydrothermal vents, and ultraviolet light from the Sun as it floats on water," co-author Professor Martin Brasier from the University of Oxford said in a statement.
"All these conditions have the potential to host, or even generate, the kind of chemical processes that we think created the first living cells."
The volcanic rock floats on water because it has the largest surface-area-to-volume ratio of any type of rock.
Dr David Wacey from the University of Western Australia said it was known that life was "thriving" among beach sand grains about 3.4 billion years ago.
"What we are saying here is that certain kinds of beach might have provided a cradle for life," he said.
The two researchers were part of an international team that suggested that microscopic fossils unearthed in Western Australia provided "good, solid evidence" for cells and bacteria living in oxygen-free world over 3.4 billion years ago.
The newest research shows how rafts of pumice could have played a significant role in the emergence of some of the earliest organisms on Earth.
The team published their findings in the journal Astrobiology.
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