Scientists find the oldest pigments in the world

Christopher Davidson
July 10, 2018

When concentrated inside ancient marine shales, the pigments take on a variety of tints, from blood red to deep purple.

Is bright pink the new black?

An global team led by researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) extracted 1.1-billion-year-old bright pink pigments from ancient rocks deep below the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, West Africa.

After crushing the very, very, very old rocks to a powder and analysing the molecules of ancient organisms, researchers struck gold.

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.

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. When the fossils were diluted, their final form revealed the bright pink pigment in an oil form.

"Then you really would have a colour and that's what we found - only that the molecules that we found are 10 times older than a T-rex would have been".

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

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 emergence of bigger life forms may have been hampered by lack of larger food particles, according to Jochen Brocks, the senior lead researcher for the study.

"At first I thought it had been contaminated". In fact, the ancient oceans that were once dominated by the cyanobacterial started to disappear when algae became prevalent.

It was a few hundred million years until algae would begin to multiply, ultimately forming the base of a food web that would eventually fuel the evolution of larger animals, Brocks told Live Science.

"[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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