As oceans alkalized, life developed bones and shells | 8/28/2017 | Staff
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A critical feature of many multicellular lifeforms on Earth are hard, biological structures, such as animal bones and snail shells that are made from minerals.

Tiny fossils recently discovered in Canada have pushed back the oldest known evidence of "bio-mineralization" to 810 million years ago. The finding could yield insights into locating fossils on other planets and shed light on the ways in which lifeforms and their planets develop together over time.

Researchers - Findings - Journal - Science - Advances

The researchers detailed their findings in the journal Science Advances. They received financial support from the NASA Astrobiology Institute MIT node and through a NASA Astrobiology postdoctoral fellowship.

Multicellular organisms, such as animals, plants and fungi are all examples of eukaryotes, whose cells possess nuclei. The evolution of bio-mineralization was a key milestone in the history of eukaryotes and for Earth in general, since bio-mineral structures, such as coral reefs, have had a dramatic impact on the planet's geology. Yet, early signs of eukaryotic bio-mineralization have remained obscure in the fossil record, making it difficult to know the age and environmental circumstances in which these biological structures first emerged.

Bio-mineralization - Scientists - Samples - Section - Lime

To pinpoint when eukaryotic bio-mineralization might have first evolved, scientists collected samples from a roughly 200-foot-thick (60-meter) section of lime mudstone and black and gray shale near Mount Slipper in Yukon territory, Canada, near the Alaskan border.

"We were there in late June, but it was still really cold," said lead author of the study, Phoebe Cohen, a paleobiologist at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. "There was lots of snow still on the ground, but that was actually okay, since that's where we get our drinking water from."

Researchers - Microfossils - Rock - Neoproterozoic - Era

The researchers focused on microfossils within the rock, which arose during the Neoproterozoic Era between 541 million to 1 billion years ago.

"The mountain slope where the fossils are found is very steep, and much of the rock...
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