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Scientists Trace 'World's Oldest Colours' From Africa

11 July 2018

When they pulverized the fossils to analyze the bacteria molecules, the researchers distilled the colors to find a brilliant pink.

Scientists have discovered what they say are the world's oldest surviving biological colours, from ancient rocks beneath the Sahara desert.

An global team of scientists discovered the oldest color in the geological record in rocks beneath the Sahara desert: the bright pink pigment aged 1.1 billion years old.

The fossils from where the archaic bright pink was discovered appeared to have a variety of colors.

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

She said the pigments were molecular fossils of chlorophyll produced by "ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that had long since vanished".

You can read all about the findings in their study here.

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Researchers ground shale rocks into powder to extract the pigment.

Chlorophyll is what gives modern plants their green color, though the fossilized chlorophyll in the cyanobacteria samples was dark red and deep purple in its concentrated form, the scientists reported. These cyanobacteria had a great run for 500 million years or so, which is more than enough time to pull off wearing pink.

The size of the cyanobacteria, however, was so minute that they were not sufficient for larger organisms such as animals.

Brocks explained this is an ancient process, but piecing together major events in Earth's geological history helped them date their color discovery. "[Gueneli] came running into my office and said, 'look at this, ' and she had this bright pink stuff..." That algae provided the "burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth", he said.

The evolution of larger, active organisms was likely held back by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae, at this time.

"Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source", Brocks said. In fact, the ancient oceans that were once dominated by the cyanobacterial started to disappear when algae became prevalent.

Earth is 4.543 billion years old, but complex life forms did not form on the planet until 600 million years ago.

Scientists Trace 'World's Oldest Colours' From Africa