Scientists find the oldest pigments in the world

Earth's oldest biological colour discovered in rocks beneath Sahara Desert

An worldwide 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.

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.

The organic pigments come from oil shale deposits drilled by an energy exploration company in the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa, about ten years ago.

Upon analysis, Gueneli said the ancient pigment resulted from molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were processed by ancient photosynthetic organisms that once ruled the oceans.

The color of the fossils ranges from blood red to deep purple in concentrated form, and bright pink when diluted with water.

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The extraction of the pigments required the billion-year-old rocks to be crushed into a powder.

"The emergence of large, active organisms was likely to have been restrained by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae", said Dr. Jochen Brocks, also from the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University. The molecules were discovered by Dr. Gueneli during her Ph.D. studies, research on her findings was led by the ANU with support from researchers in the United States and Japan as well as Geoscience Australia.

Biogeochemist Dr. Janet Hope holds an ampoule with pink colored porphyrins. This meant that all organisms at the time were feeding on the cyanobacteria.

At first, scientists thought it had to do with a lack of oxygen, but it turns out that may not be the case.

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. The discovery, published in a new study, tells us more about the evolution of ancient animals. Dr. Brocks stated: "Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source". The pink was created by cyanobacteria, which was a dominant presence on earth before algae took over 650 million years ago. Dinosaurs appeared 235 million years ago and were wiped out just 65 million years ago.

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