Scientists using revolutionary new technology developed at The University of Nottingham have recorded the earliest evidence of animal life so far.
Using a scientific technique known as Hydropyrolysis (using hydrogen gas at high pressure) they have been able to date chemical fossils discovered in sedimentary rocks in Oman. The high-precision technique has shown that these fossil steroids, remnants of a type of sponge known as Demosponges, are between 635 and 750 million years old. They date back to around the time of the Marinoan glaciation, the last of the huge ice ages at the end of the Neoproterozoic era.
The research, published in Nature on February 5 2009, suggests that the shallow waters in some late Cryogenian ocean basins contained dissolved oxygen in concentrations sufficient to support simple multicellular animals at least 100 million years before the rapid diversification of bilaterians early animals with a bilateral symmetry during an interval known as the Cambrian explosion by palaeontologists.
Colin Snape, Professor of Chemical Technology and Chemical Engineering, in the School of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, said: "This landmark study on marine ecosystems was made possible by the unique capability of hydropyrolysis to release key biomarkers from ancient rocks with minimal structural alteration."
Hydropyrolysis also known as HyPy was developed into a commercial system through collaboration with Engineering & Quality Systems and reactor engineering specialist Strata Technology. It was originally designed to liquefy large quantities of coal and strip down complex mixtures of organic chemicals down to their pure carbon skeletons. The technology, which recently won The 2008 Engineer Business Support and Universities Award, also has applications for detecting steroid abuse and cleaning up charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating.
Using biomarker analysis, the discovery, by an internationa
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University of Nottingham