Academic journal article Science and Children

Archaeological Gold Mine

Academic journal article Science and Children

Archaeological Gold Mine

Article excerpt

Scientists have suspected that the three known domains of life--eukaryotes, bacteria, and archaea--branched off and went their separate ways around three billion years ago. But pinning down the time of that split has been an elusive task. Recently, a team of scientists presented direct evidence that the three domains of life coexisted at least as long as 2.7 billion years ago. The discovery came from chemical examination of shale samples, loaded with oily lipid remains of archaea found in a deep Canadian gold mine. Fabien Kenig, associate professor of Earth and environmental sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his former doctoral student Gregory Ventura, spent nearly five years carefully analyzing the shale samples, originally to compare what they found with an earlier Australian study suggesting the presence of eukaryotes some 2.7 billion years ago. Their report appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They didn't learn the true value of the material until it was analyzed using a sophisticated, multidimensional gas chromatography instrument at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. When they analyzed a sample, Kenig said, they were able to pull apart its complex mixture of molecular fossils and found it was "essentially made of archaea-derived lipids. …

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