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Discovery of new fossils tells tale of life after 'Snowball Earth' event

June 16, 2011 - Washington

Researchers at MIT, Harvard University and Smith College have found a diversity of 710 million-year-old fossils in rocks, suggesting life may have recovered relatively after the planet emerged from a global glaciation, or 'Snowball Earth', event.

These hundreds of microscopic fossils are remnants of tiny, amoeba-like organisms that likely survived the harsh post-glacial environment by building armor and reaching out with microscopic "feet" to grab minerals from the environment, cobbling particles together to make protective shells.

The discovery is the earliest evidence of shell building, or agglutination, in the fossil record.

"We know quite well what happened before the first Snowball, but we have no idea what happened in between," says Tanja Bosak, assistant professor of geobiology at MIT, and the paper's lead author.

"Now we're really starting to realize there's a lot of unexpected life here."

Andrew Knoll, the Fisher Professor of Natural History and professor of earth and planetary sciences at Harvard, says the group's findings point to a potentially rich source of information about the kinds of life able to persist between glacial periods.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Earth and Planetary Science Letters.


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