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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Origin of Life Mapping

Origin of Life Mapping

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Sunday, September 16, 2018/Categories: natural history, video, marine life, sustainability, environment, adventure , climate change

                                                   Bleu-green Cyanobactera (credit: Wiki-commons)

Origin of Life (abiogenesis) studies represent a cutting-edge field of research. They basically ask the question: what caused chemistry to "spark" into reproducing biology? CalTech is trying to answer this question, Where It All Began.

What is known is that life began very early in the Earth's geologic history but during the first 2+ billion years or so this life was microbial in nature and lived in the oceans. The first attempts to colonize dry land likely began when filamentous blue-green bacteria (cyanobacteria) collected in mats along coastal shorelines and became exposed to the atmosphere. These photosynthetic "microbial mats" grew on the interface between the sand and ocean. Applying Geobiology, a collaborative field investigating how life evolved from multiple perspectives, evolution was "kickstarted". Now, a team of CalTech investigators is studying existing microbial mats on an uninhabited Caribbean island to understand their ecology. During the summer, a team of students and faculty goes to the island to study mats covering its landscape.

According to CalTech, these living mats are layered structures built by the filamentous bacteria that host a wide range of micro-organisms. They provide the investigators with details on their ecology and the micro-environments on the island. The university team uses drones, developed in the Laboratory for Planetary Visualization, to fly over the island. The drones carry stereo cameras to develop 3-D maps of the different mats and their environments. In the future, larger drones will carry spectrometers and other sensors to fully understand these ancient microbial communities.

A video explains the field work and its fascinating progress. In the future, similar investigations may be used to answer the same 'origin of life' question elsewhere in the Solar System on Mars, Jupiter's moon Europa, or Saturn's icy Enceladus.



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