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Living stromatolite fossils found on Saudi Island

Living stromatolite fossils found on Saudi Island

Stromatolite fossils

Scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery on Saudi Arabia’s Sheybarah Island in the Red Sea. For the first time in the Middle East, living stromatolites, ancient microbial structures that provide insights into early life on Earth, have been found. The study, published in a recent journal, explores these stromatolites and their significance in understanding Earth’s early environment and the origins of life.

Stromatolites are layered formations created by the activity of microorganisms, primarily cyanobacteria, and date back over 3.5 billion years. The formation of stromatolites begins with cyanobacteria growing on surfaces like rocks or sediment. As they multiply, they trap and bind sediment particles, forming layers of organic material and minerals.

Over time, these layers build distinctive dome-shaped or columnar structures. The cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, use sunlight to photosynthesize, producing oxygen and creating layers of calcium carbonate and other minerals. These ancient stromatolites played a crucial role in the Great Oxygenation Event, which introduced oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere and enabled the evolution of more complex life forms.

The newly discovered stromatolites on Sheybarah Island cover an area exceeding 5 hectares and exhibit multiple growth forms.

Stromatolites discovered on Saudi island

The discovery was made accidentally during a field visit in January 2021 using a local fishing boat.

Researchers employed various techniques, including drone surveys, hand sampling, and X-ray micro-computed tomography analysis, to examine their internal structures and microbial diversity. The study reveals that environmental factors such as regular wetting and drying, extreme temperature ranges, and light currents influence the stromatolites’ growth. The microbial community within the stromatolites is dominated by filamentous cyanobacteria, which form mucous sheaths and extracellular polymeric substances.

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To the best of our knowledge, the discovery of the Sheybarah stromatolites is the first of its kind in the Middle East, presenting an unprecedented opportunity to study their geobiology in this unique geographic region,” the study authors wrote. The discovery of living stromatolites on Sheybarah Island provides a unique opportunity to study early life and ocean evolution on Earth. These structures are analogous to the stromatolites that dominated the planet during the Archean and Proterozoic eras.

Understanding their formation and growth can offer insights into the conditions that prevailed on early Earth and the processes that led to the development of complex life forms. Moreover, studying stromatolites has implications for the search for extraterrestrial life. Stromatolites are considered potential biosignatures for life on other planets, such as Mars.

By studying the microbial communities and environmental conditions that support stromatolite formation on Earth, scientists can develop models to recognize potential signs of life on other planets.

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