Nav: Home

ANU scientists discover the world's oldest colors

July 09, 2018

Scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) and overseas have discovered the oldest colours in the geological record, 1.1 billion-year-old bright pink pigments extracted from rocks deep beneath the Sahara desert in Africa.

Dr Nur Gueneli from ANU said the pigments taken from marine black shales of the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa, were more than half a billion years older than previous pigment discoveries. Dr Gueneli discovered the molecules as part of her PhD studies.

"The bright pink pigments are the molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished," said Dr Gueneli from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

The fossils range from blood red to deep purple in their concentrated form, and bright pink when diluted.

ANU led the research with support from Geoscience Australia and researchers in the United States and Japan.

The researchers crushed the billion-year-old rocks to powder, before extracting and analysing molecules of ancient organisms from them.

"The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago, which helps to explain why animals did not exist at the time," Dr Gueneli said.

Senior lead researcher Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from ANU said that the emergence of large, active organisms was likely to have been restrained by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae.

"Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source," said

Dr Brocks from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

"The cyanobacterial oceans started to vanish about 650 million 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."

The research is published in PNAS.
-end-
  • Images available for the media use: https://cloudstor.aarnet.edu.au/plus/s/cDtEgp4xDFpFRG4
  • Caption for images: Biogeochemistry Lab Manager Janet Hope from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences holds a vial of pink coloured porphyrins representing the oldest intact pigments in the world. Image credit: The Australian National University.
FOR INTERVIEW:

Associate Professor Jochen Brocks
Research School of Earth Sciences
ANU College of Science
M: +61 432 470 006
Skype: jbrocks
E: jochen.brocks@anu.edu.au

Dr Nur Gueneli
Research School of Earth Sciences
ANU College of Science
E: nur.gueneli@anu.edu.au
T: +(49) 1573 2316 266 (Central European time zone)

For media assistance, contact Will Wright on +61 2 6100 3486, the ANU media hotline on +612 6125 7979 or email the ANU Media Team at <media@anu.edu.au>.

Australian National University

Related Molecules Articles:

The inner lives of molecules
Researchers from Canada, the UK and Germany have developed a new experimental technique to take 3-D images of molecules in action.
Novel technique helps ID elusive molecules
Stuart Lindsay, a researcher at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute, has devised a clever means of identifying carbohydrate molecules quickly and accurately.
How solvent molecules cooperate in reactions
Molecules from the solvent environment that at first glance seem to be uninvolved can be essential for chemical reactions.
A new way to display the 3-D structure of molecules
Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley Researchers have developed nanoscale display cases that enables new atomic-scale views of hard-to-study chemical and biological samples.
Bending hot molecules
Hot molecules are found in extreme environments such as the edges of fusion reactors.
At attention, molecules!
University of Iowa chemists have learned about a molecular assembly that may help create quicker, more responsive touch screens, among other applications.
Folding molecules into screw-shaped structures
An international research team describes the methods of winding up molecules into screw-shaped structures.
Artificial molecules
A new method allows scientists at ETH Zurich and IBM to fabricate artificial molecules out of different types of microspheres.
Molecules that may keep you young and alive
A new study may have uncovered the fountain of youth: plant extracts containing the six best groups of anti-aging molecules ever seen.
Fun with Lego (molecules)
A great childhood pleasure is playing with LegosĀ® and marveling at the variety of structures you can create from a small number of basic elements.

Related Molecules Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#532 A Class Conversation
This week we take a look at the sociology of class. What factors create and impact class? How do we try and study it? How does class play out differently in different countries like the US and the UK? How does it impact the political system? We talk with Daniel Laurison, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College and coauthor of the book "The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged", about class and its impacts on people and our systems.