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For the paper trail of life on Mars or other planets, find cellulose
Date:3/30/2008

CHAPEL HILL Looking for evidence of life on Mars or other planets? Finding cellulose microfibers would be the next best thing to a close encounter, according to new research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The cover story for the April issue of the journal Astrobiology, the new research also pushes back the earliest direct evidence of biological material on Earth by about 200 million years.

Cellulose is the tough, resilient substance best-known as the major structural component of plant matter. It is one of the most abundant biological materials on Earth, with plants, algae and bacteria generating an estimated 100 gigatons each year. Prehistoric forms of cellulose were made by cyanobacteria, the blue-green algae and bacteria still found in almost every conceivable habitat on land and in the oceans, which is known to have been present on Earth 2.8 billion years ago.

Jack D. Griffith, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor of microbiology and immunology at the UNC School of Medicine, found cellulose microfibers in samples he took from pristine ancient salt deposits deep beneath the New Mexico high desert.

The age of the cellulose microfibers we describe in the study is estimated to be 253 million years old. It makes these the oldest native macromolecules to date to have been directly isolated, visualized and examined biochemically, said Griffith, who is also a virology professor at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Until now, the oldest evidence of biological material from fragments of ancient protein found in Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur fossils was dated at 68 million years.

According to Griffith, the most primitive life forms likely developed means of polymerizing glucose the energy currency of all known carbon-based life forms into cellulose as a structural molecule. Cellulose is like the bacterias house, the biofilm surrounding them. Plants adopted cellulose as thei
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Contact: Patric Lane
patric_lane@unc.edu
919-962-8596
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Source:Eurekalert

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