Published: Wed, July 11, 2018
Science | By Joan Schultz

What is the world's oldest color? Science now knows

What is the world's oldest color? Science now knows

The fossils range from blood red to deep purple in their concentrated form, and bright pink when diluted.

"It turned out to be real pigment, 1.1 billion-years-old".

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.

Not only does the find provide tangible evidence of ancient photosynthesis, analysis of the compounds indicates they were left behind by bacteria, which helps explain why animals took so long to show up in the evolutionary record.

Biogeochemist Dr. Janet Hope holds an ampoule with pink colored porphyrins.

The BBC reports that the pigment comes from the chlorophyll of fossilized cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, whose pigment molecules have survived eons in the ground.

A group of scientists from The Australian National University (ANU) have discovered the oldest colors in the geological record.

But the latest discovery is more than just confirmation of ancient pigments (it's not like we thought the world was black-and-white before this).

After crushing the very, very, very old rocks to a powder and analysing the molecules of ancient organisms, researchers struck gold.

For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 9, Gueneli and her team pulverized the billion-year-old rocks they found beneath the Sahara desert.

That means nothing was swimming around, chomping down on morsels of sunbaking cyanobacteria.

The emergence of bigger life forms may have been hampered by lack of larger food particles, according to Jochen Brocks, the senior lead researcher for the study.

The whole affair kicked off a takeover that quite literally changed the world, one that not only made it more colourful in the end, but a lot more exciting.

"I heard her screaming in the lab when it came out, and she ran into my office", Asst Prof Brocks said.

Cyanobacterial oceans began disappearing around 650 million years ago, Brock said, which is when algae began rapidly spreading. In comparison, the microscopic algae are a thousand times larger in volume than the cyanobacteria.

The team of researchers from Australia, Japan and the United States of America also were able to use the pigments to confirm that ancient marine ecosystems were dominated by tiny cyanobacteria, a type of bacteria that obtains energy through photosynthesis.

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