Scientists at the University of Waterloo were analyzing a 2.5-billion-year-old ruby when they realized that they had potentially found evidence of some of the oldest life on earth. The ruby contained graphite which, when tested, appeared to have come from ancient microorganisms. Scientists have concluded that this graphite was actually necessary for the formation of the rubies which were being examined.
Scientists find evidence of ancient life
Researchers from the University of Waterloo were studying the conditions which enable the growth of rubies in Greenland when they discovered a sample containing graphite.
Greenland has the oldest deposits of rubies known to exist and the sample in question was dated to around 2.5 billion years ago.
At this time there was little oxygen in the atmosphere and life on earth was limited to primitive microorganisms and algae films.
The presence of graphite, a crystalline form of the element carbon, indicated that there was a potential for the rubies to contain signs of these primeval microorganisms.
Scientists examined the mass of the carbon atoms contained in the graphite to determine whether not it should be considered evidence of once living matter.
The graphite consisted of carbon-12, a lighter variety of carbon atoms which living matter is usually composed of. This provided the evidence which they had hoped to find.
Conditions necessary for ruby growth
Finding signs of 2.5-billion-year-old life would have been a rare enough find but the discovery went on to provide some of the information which researchers had initially been looking for.
It is believed that the graphite formed from dead microorganisms changed the chemical composition of the rocks which surrounded it.
Researchers believe, based on models, that rubies would not have formed in that location if the graphite had not created conditions favorable to their growth.
This provides evidence for the sorts of geological conditions necessary for ruby growth which the scientists had initially set out to investigate.
The research was led by Chris Yakymchuk, professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Yakymchuk stated that this is the first time that this kind of evidence of ancient life has ever been discovered in rubies.