The cover story for the April issue of the journal Astrobiology, the new research also pushes back the earliest direct evidence of biological material on Earth by about 200 million years.
Cellulose is the tough, resilient substance best-known as the major structural component of plant matter. It is one of the most abundant biological materials on Earth, with plants, algae and bacteria generating an estimated 100 gigatons each year. Prehistoric forms of cellulose were made by cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae and bacteria still found in almost every conceivable habitat on land and in the oceans, which is known to have been present on Earth 2.8 billion years ago.
Jack D. Griffith, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor of microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, found cellulose microfibers in samples he took from pristine ancient salt deposits deep beneath the New Mexico high desert.
“The age of the cellulose microfibers we describe in the study is estimated to be 253 million years old. It makes these the oldest native macromolecules to date to have been directly isolated, visualized and examined biochemically,” said Griffith, who is also a virology professor at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The samples came from the WIPP site near Carlsbad, NM.
There are two things that are very exciting about this for me. The obvious one is that they recovered biological material from 253 million frakkin years ago! I mean Holy shibbit!
Second, if they have samples from 253 million years ago, they probably have samples that cross the PT Boundary. This was tropical or near tropical at the time. What sort of fossils from that area might there be given the climate at the time?
Keep your ears perked!