Yellowstone microbes could help explain origin of life

Avatar By Joseph Scalise | 2 years ago

New evidence discovered at Yellowstone National Park may give insight into the origin of life on Earth, according to new research published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

In the study, scientists from Montana State University stumbled upon a new archaeal lineage living in sections of Yellowstone. Such a finding is significant because the creatures are not just interesting from a biological standpoint, they are one of the earliest forms of cellular life on Earth

“The discovery of archaeal lineages is critical to our understanding of the universal tree of life and evolutionary history of the Earth,” said study co-author William Inskeep, a researcher at Montana State University, according to Sci-News. “Geochemically diverse thermal environments in Yellowstone National Park provide unprecedented opportunities for studying Archaea in habitats that may represent analogues of early Earth.”

The team uncovered the lineage — known as Marsarchaeota — in Yellowstone’s particularly acidic waters. The microorganisms need little oxygen to exist and they thrive on iron oxides. For those two reasons, understanding them could help scientists explain how life thrived when Earth had a completely different chemical composition.

In addition to the new lineage, researchers also identified two key subgroups that are able to survive in habitats with iron oxide. The first can manage in water that is hotter than 122 degrees Fahrenheit, while the other can withstand water temperatures between 140 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

The researchers discovered that the new archaeal lineage cannot produce iron oxide. That insight may shed light on the early Earth because it is information scientists can use to gain more knowledge about both high-temperature biology and molecular biology.

It may also give key insight into what early life looked like and how organisms may look on other planets. The team plans to further explore such questions through future research and more trials.

“In the end, after many years of work, it’s exciting, and a relief, to have our team’s work recognized and published, particularly in a high-impact journal,” said lead researcher Zackary Jay, a researcher at Montana State University, according to Tech Times.