More Clues to the Oldest Fossils Ever

[♩INTRO] It seems like every few months, the evolutionary
biology community has something new to get excited about. Scientists keep finding evidence of incredibly
old life. Like, in March this year, researchers found
remnants of ancient thermal vents buried in rocks in Quebec, with microfossils
that clocked in around 3.7 to 4.28 billion years old. These would’ve taken the crown for oldest
fossils ever, but a lot of scientists think that the original
estimate was off by a billion years. So we’re still looking for more conclusive
evidence of super old life. And this week, a group from Denmark thinks
they have some. Partially buried under the ice and snow of
West Greenland, there’s a belt of rock called the Isua Greenstone
Belt. In the 1970s, geologists dated the belt to
be over 3.7 billion years old some of the oldest rocks on Earth. And for years, scientists have been probing
the belt for evidence of ancient life. In 2016, researchers found signs of some really
old fossils called stromatolites, which are sediment layers made by bacterial
mats. The wavy shapes and textures of certain layers
looked similar to other stromatolites. But there wasn’t enough proof of organic
material, to suggest they were actually made by microbes. And now, researchers might have that proof…
or at least more clues. The authors of this new paper published in
the journal Nature used a technique called vibrational spectroscopy to figure out the composition of tiny pockets
in the Greenland rocks. Specifically, the researchers looked at garnet
inclusions, which are minerals that got trapped inside
the rocks while they were being squished by heat and
pressure and forming. Within the garnet inclusions were small pockets
of organic leftovers. And when scientists bombarded these pockets
with infrared light, all of the molecules and atoms started to
vibrate at really specific frequencies. Using those frequencies, they were able to
tell which atoms were bound to each other and found evidence
of carbon bound to nitrogen, oxygen, and probably
phosphorous. Which points directly towards life. The more research we can do on these rocks
the better, but these fossils are looking pretty much
like the oldest evidence of life we’ve ever found…
so far. Now, while a bunch of scientists search for
the oldest life on Earth, others are are focusing on keeping modern-day
organisms alive. Researchers at Caltech have figured out a
way to speed up a chemical process in the ocean that normally
takes thousands of years. And this reaction could help us combat ocean
acidification. The amount of carbon dioxide gas in our atmosphere
is steadily climbing, and it’s one of the big players responsible
for climate change. But the biggest concentration of CO2 isn’t
in the air around us. It’s in the ocean. CO2 is soluble which means it easily dissolves
in water. And the amount of gas in the air directly
impacts how much gets into the water. Once it’s in the ocean, carbon dioxide reacts
with water molecules to form carbonic acid, which breaks up into
carbonate ions and hydrogen ions. And here’s where a complex chemical balancing
act comes in. See, carbonate and hydrogen ions can combine
to make bicarbonate, which is much less acidic. So it can neutralize the dangerous concentration
of acid in the water. But bicarbonate isn’t super stable either, so it’ll keep splitting back up into carbonate
and hydrogen. We call this the bicarbonate buffer something that helps moderate pH levels. The exact same process is happening in your
blood, and keeps your body working properly. Now, as the amount of atmospheric CO2 increases, and more gas dissolves in the ocean, the bicarbonate buffer starts to wobble. Which is a huge problem for organisms that rely on the chemical balance to survive. But, according to this new research, there might be a solution scientists have
been overlooking. On the bottom of the ocean floor, there’s
a graveyard full of the calcium carbonate skeletons of
billions of dead sea creatures, like corals or plankton. Over thousands of years, these skeletons dissolve, releasing their carbonate back into the ocean and adding to the bicarbonate buffer. But right now, with so much ocean acidification, the natural reaction rates are way too slow
to help neutralize all this extra acid. In our bodies, these kinds of reactions can’t
and don’t take thousands of years to happen, because
we have an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase that catalyzes that
reaction. So the researchers at Caltech thought, hey, maybe we can use this enzyme to kickstart
some chemistry on the bottom of the ocean floor too. And after running some experiments in the
lab, they found that it can make the slow part of the calcium carbonate dissolving reaction
around 500 times faster. So it’s not a magic bullet to fix ocean
acidification, but this research could be the first step
in making some antacids for the ocean. By boosting the bicarbonate buffer, we can combat one of the biggest effects of
climate change. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
News, and thanks especially to all of our patrons
on Patreon who make this show possible. If you want to help us keep making videos
like this, you can go to­. And if you just want to help us out by watching, because there’s lots of great stuff here, you can go to and subscribe! [♩OUTRO]

100 thoughts on “More Clues to the Oldest Fossils Ever”

  1. While the anti-acid thing is an interesting take, huge amounts of research has to go into whether or not adding this enzyme to the ocean would mess up ocean life.

  2. Oh jeez my biggest fear… Scientist think they understand the chemistry of the earth well enough that they can "fix" it. In turn they create a huge problem that they didn't foresee.

  3. dude, get these scientists some god damned aquariums. a lot of the stuff that is "revolutionary" has been not so far from fish keeping techniques that we've had for years.

  4. Oh crap. Let's mess with things because that always turns out well. Nature has experienced these things before and probably has a method of dealing with it. Leave it alone!

  5. Sounds cool but would it really ever be feasible to release enzymes or another chemical which helps mitigate ocean acidification into the ENTIRE ocean? Or even the parts closest to land that we might consider a priority? No matter how advanced these methods become it doesn't seem feasible that there will ever be a cost effective solution as well as a unified global effort.

  6. Hey in Gordon Mccdowells thorium documentary he talks about how researchers are pulling carbonic acid out of the ocean and then recombining it with hydrogen to make carbon neutral fuels! It's possible to have these reactions in advanced nuclear reactors because their temperatures are high enough combine the carbon and hydrogen!

  7. I think they are playing God until they are not. Hows that anti Zika Mosquito release going in California? Well we all hope.

  8. we could use carbonic anhydrase to combat climate change
    Or we could stop consuming meat and dairy

  9. is there a chance the reaction could have a runaway effect (think any science fiction disaster movie)? also, what would that increase do to the different sea creatures that live on the bottom of the sea floor?

  10. Love it when science tries to fix what humans mess up.
    I learned more about things when I broke them(human nature?). You start to see how complex, and connected the word is,and if one part slows or fails it all starts to fall apart.

  11. Theoretically, how old would the first conclusive evidence of life have to be before it's implausible that it would have had the opportunity to arise from prebiotic materials? It seems like we're approaching that point already, given that the late heavy bombardment ended around 3.8-billion years ago.

  12. You guys explained the H3CO2-buffer perfectly.
    My professor took 10 min. to do the same, without the success.
    Thanks, guys!

  13. SciShow is the reason I am at least LITERATE in many of the sciences lmaoo. Really helped me when I was in HS, this channel and CrashCourse. These two brother's a harbringers of knowledge and they do it in a cool relatable way! Thanks SciShow!!

  14. Recycling Concrete: Used concrete can be placed in rivers to raise the pH of the ocean's and raise the Calcium Hardness & Carbonate Alkalinity to increase the Calcium Carbonate Saturation of the ocean.

  15. This was a particularly well written, illustrated, and presented show. Bravo! Hank always nails the chemistry related ones.

  16. Sorry but the earth and universe is only 6000 years old, Adam and Eve were the first humans, and if you do not worship Jesus Christ, you are burning n hell for eternity. That is a solid fact. This channel needs to be banned for teaching lies to our children, he needs to teach about Jesus Christ. Amen.

  17. This whole thing sounds too chemtrails~y to me.

    It sounds like a solution to a problem on paper but there's a more complex, dynamic, and flexible natural system at work here that needs to be taken into consideration. I feel that tickling the ocean floors will do little towards solving these issues as a whole. In fact, I fear it would only make matters worse.

  18. Good work on that fossil story.

    You aren't covering yourselves in glory when you start talking about global warming, however. Ocean acidification is a non issue, and if you actually investigated the topic instead of just repeating what the alarmists say, you would know why.

  19. I have a vision or you may call it prediction or prophecy!!!
    If they do there Best in making an anti acid substance and apply it to the Ocean then a major disaster that may change the life on it as we know may happen!!!

  20. If it IS such a problem, then how did these organisms survive the Earth's past with more than 10 times the present CO2 levels in the atmosphere??

  21. What happens when the oceans have hit significantly low, like 10% low, out of the current 100%, CO2 levels?

  22. i have a question. wouldn't boosting the speed at which bicarbonates dissolve in water extremely negatively affect living organisms that use those bicarbonates to form their shells? not only coral but also mollusks and other organisms with calcified shells? I read research lately that mollusk shells are weaker than they used to be due to the effects of ocean acidification eating away at their shells/inhibiting shell growth. would the use of enzymes not accelerate that effect? while it's true that most of the bicarbonate in the ocean is in the form of dead things' skeletons, it's also important to note that corals use those skeletons as foundations for their structures. one of the key reasons we don't like ocean acidification is the fact that it dissolves the reefs and endangers their structural integrity. sacrificing them to raise the ocean's pH seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, unless I'm missing something.

  23. I wonder when scientists will realize that there is nothing to be fixed. Climate was changing, is changing and will be. Species died, are dying now and will be. New species appeared on the earth that were better in new conditions it happens now and will be happening. Nothing to be fixed.

  24. "Ocean acidification" huh? C'mon Hank, I thought you were good at science? This term is one of those political pseudo science things that gets trotted out to panic the uninformed. The ocean is basic, and it fluctuates in its baseness depending the salts and gasses dissolved in it. When the water is really cold it tends to be less basic, but still over a pH of 8, and when it is warmer it becomes more basic as outgassing occurs. The ocean is in no danger of even being neutral, never mind acidic.

    BTW, fossils that date near 4.3Bn years would be the final nail in the coffin of the evolution hypothesis – it essentially gives no time for assembly of even the most basic components of a cell by random chance. To have enough life around at that time to be detectable by us would mean that life would have to get to the stage of self replication, and sustained it for a long time – that's DNA, RNA, proteins… and all of this on a planet that is highly inhospitable to life at that time.

  25. This is not science. This is religion. It's a load of crap, a few facts to justify what is being fed to you to make the crap taste better.

  26. Wouldn't increasing the rate of carbonate dissolution lead to the release of more CO2 into the atmosphere. If I remember my Comparative Planetology class, the primary factor keeping our atmosphere from being like Venus is that most of the CO2 was bound (by life) into more chemically stable carbonates. Like most environmental "solutions" this will just end up being another old lady who swallowed a fly situation.

  27. my wifes been using Vibrational Specktoscopy for years unsaid its great for those longnights that im away. . . oh . . wait . .

  28. Yeah, but your body kicks off a fever to fight infection. Drs have found that stopping a fever thats 102 f or below, is actually not good for you. You should let a fever run its course. Food for thought.

  29. *Lets take tums instead of avoiding acidic foods and make insurance pay for the tums. Thats what we are or better yet not doing.*

  30. I watched the entire Vid waiting for a mention of algores religion … which must be mandatory on a scishow vid. (algore is a sponsor?)
    2:10 is the invocation, 2:23 the all Hail algore, 3:18 the excuse and back peddle, 4:13 the pitch
    Yep … I was right, the sermon went almost as I predicted.

  31. In a couple of hours I'm going to a lecture with Minik Rosing… the geologist that excavates the Isua Sediment.

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