Life-giving elements in ancient water

2013-05-15 22:11
An oil drilling rig. (File, AFP)

An oil drilling rig. (File, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - Scientists said on Wednesday they had found life-giving chemicals in water at least 1.5 billion years old, which they are now combing for signs of microscopic organisms surviving from a prehistoric age.

The water, isolated in pockets deep underground for billions of years, is now pouring out of boreholes from a mine 2.4km beneath Ontario, Canada, they wrote in the journal Nature.

"This water could be some of the oldest on the planet and may even contain life," the team said in a statement.

Not only that - the similarity between the rocks that trapped the fluid and those found on Mars raised hopes that similar life-sustaining water could be buried deep inside the Red Planet, they said.

"The findings... may force us to rethink which parts of our planet are fit for life," they added.

The British and Canadian researchers analysed the water and found it was rich in dissolved gases like hydrogen and methane that are able to sustain microscopic life not exposed to the sun for billions of years, as is the case on the ocean floor.

The rocks around the water were dated about 2.7 billion years old, "but no one thought the water could be the same age, until now," the team said.

Analysing the water's composition in the lab, the team estimated that it was at least 1.5 billion years old, possibly more.

"Our finding is of huge interest to researchers who want to understand how microbes evolve in isolation, and is central to the whole question of the origin of life, the sustainability of life, and life in extreme environments and on other planets," said Manchester University researcher and study co-author Chris Ballentine.

Before this discovery, the only other water from this age had been found trapped in tiny bubbles in rock, incapable of supporting life.

The Canadian water has characteristics similar to much younger water flowing from a mine 2.8km below ground in South Africa, which is known to support microbes.

"Our Canadian colleagues are trying to find out if the [Ontario] water contains life," said lead author Greg Holland of Lancaster University.

"What we can be sure of is that we have identified a way in which planets can create and preserve an environment friendly to microbial life for billions of years.

"This is regardless of how inhospitable the surface might be, opening up the possibility of similar environments in the subsurface of Mars."

Read more on:    nature  |  mars  |  canada  |  environment  |  science

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.