Evidence for early life in Earth's oldest hydrothermal vent precipitates

Nature. 2017 Mar 1;543(7643):60-64. doi: 10.1038/nature21377.


Although it is not known when or where life on Earth began, some of the earliest habitable environments may have been submarine-hydrothermal vents. Here we describe putative fossilized microorganisms that are at least 3,770 million and possibly 4,280 million years old in ferruginous sedimentary rocks, interpreted as seafloor-hydrothermal vent-related precipitates, from the Nuvvuagittuq belt in Quebec, Canada. These structures occur as micrometre-scale haematite tubes and filaments with morphologies and mineral assemblages similar to those of filamentous microorganisms from modern hydrothermal vent precipitates and analogous microfossils in younger rocks. The Nuvvuagittuq rocks contain isotopically light carbon in carbonate and carbonaceous material, which occurs as graphitic inclusions in diagenetic carbonate rosettes, apatite blades intergrown among carbonate rosettes and magnetite-haematite granules, and is associated with carbonate in direct contact with the putative microfossils. Collectively, these observations are consistent with an oxidized biomass and provide evidence for biological activity in submarine-hydrothermal environments more than 3,770 million years ago.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carbonates / chemistry
  • Ferric Compounds / chemistry
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide / chemistry
  • Fossils*
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry
  • Hydrothermal Vents / microbiology*
  • Life
  • Origin of Life*
  • Quebec
  • Time Factors


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Carbonates
  • Ferric Compounds
  • ferric oxide
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide