It's life, but not as we know it
By SIMON BENSON
The Daily Telegraph (Australia)
January 29, 2004
AUSTRALIAN scientists claim to have conclusive proof that unusual
microscopic fossils found in a four billion-year-old meteorite from
Antarctica are bacterial life from Mars.
And in an extraordinary piece of research to be published today, they
claim that the find makes it probable that life on Earth first began on
NASA scientists who have reviewed the research claimed that the work by
Sydney biophysicist Dr Tony Taylor confirmed their theories, which many
in the scientific community have doubted since they were first put
forward in 1996.
"We have a better match than a fingerprint," the Australian Nuclear
Science and Technology Organisation's Dr Taylor said. His research is
published today in the highly regarded Journal of Microscopy.
"They are the original material . . . they are the real McCoy . . . they
were produced by Mars," he said.
"The bacteria that we studied had 11 characteristics identical to the
fossilised bacteria in the meteorite, demonstrating beyond reasonable
doubt that the features in the meteorite had a biological origin.
"I say that NASA made the enormous discovery, I have just confirmed it . . .
I just filled in the last piece of the jigsaw.
"Our research shows the structures found in the NASA meteorite were more
than likely made by bacteria present on Mars four billion years ago -
before life even started on Earth."
In 1996, NASA scientists claimed the structures inside the ALH84001
meteorite from Mars, which crashed into Earth in 1984, were bacterial
However, many scientists have since claimed that the structures could
easily have been formed by inorganic chemical processes.
Now, new species of bacteria found in mud from Queensland have been
discovered to have the same bio-signatures as the material which was
found inside the meteorite.
Using a world-first breakthrough in electron microscopy developed by
Dr Taylor and his collaborator Professor John Barry from Queensland
University, it was possible to peer further into the structures than
has been done previously, revealing magnetites inside the fossil and
those inside the newly discovered normal earthly bacteria were identical.
Living organisms arrange carbonate crystals - called magnetites as
they are magnetically aligned like a compass - inside their cells in
Professor Malcom Walter, an astrobiologist from Macquarie University,
said he was very sceptical about the new claims.
"There has been a long history of trying to interpret bacteria inside
meteorites as life," Mr Walter said.
NASA scientist at the AMES Research Centre Professor Imre Friedmann - who
did the original work on the meteorite said: "When I received my e-mail
from Tony with a copy of his new research paper I realised that it
contained no less than an elegant confirmation of our findings which
were doubted by many of our scientific colleagues.
"We found microscopic structures in the Martian meteorite ALH84001 which,
we suggested, have features that are tell-tale signs of biological origin
and could have been produced only by bacteria."
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