Gabon, the cradle of macroscopic life?

As we are indeed thus in the presence of the oldest macroscopic fossils discovered to date, the first thing to do is to protect the geological site, in order to avoid any pillaging, and to stop work in the still active quarry. Afterwards the studies will continue on the other numerous specimens which are waiting in the boxes brought from Gabon. ‘For my part,’ reveals our micro-palaeontologist, ‘I am looking for possible fossils in associated sediments, in other words in the rocks which surround these macrofossils. They will not necessarily teach us about the latter, but instead about the ecosystem in which these organisms lived.’

Up until now 20 samples have already been studied and no microfossil has yet been found in the nets…but more samples need to be taken, and more wisely. ‘I will soon be going to the University of Poitiers, where all the samples have been taken,’ announces Emmanuelle Javaux, ‘to choose from amongst the kilos of rocks brought from Gabon the sediments I have more chance of finding microfossils in. Grey rocks (shales) are more what is required. And up until now I have only been supplied with samples which come from black rocks.’ macrofossilsIt will be remembered that it was already in taking an interest in such grey rocks, these rocks people shy away from because of their poverty in organic matter, that Emmanuelle Javaux found 3.2 billion year old fossils which were the subject of a previous publication in Nature last February. [See also the article: Proofs of life dating back 3.2 billion years!]

‘All this research on the evolution of life on Earth is genuine Sherlock Holmes work,’ confides Emmanuelle Javaux, ‘but it is fascinating to try to understand it: when did the various groups of organisms appear? In what conditions? How did they evolve? It is the whole question of the beginnings of life and Earth and its evolution. When I see in a microscope a cell which is over a billion years old, I say to myself that it is incredible and marvellous. We are coming nearer and nearer to an understanding of the first stages of life. I think it emerged naturally: we don’t need to wave a magic wand in this story.’

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