Researchers discover world's oldest colors under Sahara desert

Scientists just discovered the world's oldest colors under the Sahara desert in Africa.

Tyler MacDonald | Jul 10, 2018

A team of researchers fromThe Australian National University (ANU) and overseas facilities have discovered the oldest colors in the world's geological record in the form of1.1 billion-year-old bright pink pigments. The pigments were found in rocks located deep under the Sahara desert in Africa.

"The bright pink pigments are the molecular fossils of chlorophyll that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished," said Nur Gueneli from ANU and lead author on the study.

In their concentrated form, the fossils range in color from deep purple to blood red. When diluted, they are bright pink.

After crushing the billion-year-old rocks into powder, the team was able to extract and analyze the molecules of the ancient organisms that they harbored inside.

"The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago, which helps to explain why animals did not exist at the time," Gueneli said.

"Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source," saidJochen Brocks, senior author on the study, who is also from ANU.

"The cyanobacterial oceans started to vanish about 650 million years ago, when algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth," he added.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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