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Nature. 2006 Mar 23;440(7083):516-9.

Evidence from fluid inclusions for microbial methanogenesis in the early Archaean era.

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Research Center for the Evolving Earth and Planet, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Meguro-ku, Tokyo 152-8551, Japan.


Methanogenic microbes may be one of the most primitive organisms, although it is uncertain when methanogens first appeared on Earth. During the Archaean era (before 2.5 Gyr ago), methanogens may have been important in regulating climate, because they could have provided sufficient amounts of the greenhouse gas methane to mitigate a severely frozen condition that could have resulted from lower solar luminosity during these times. Nevertheless, no direct geological evidence has hitherto been available in support of the existence of methanogens in the Archaean period, although circumstantial evidence is available in the form of approximately 2.8-Gyr-old carbon-isotope-depleted kerogen. Here we report crushing extraction and carbon isotope analysis of methane-bearing fluid inclusions in approximately 3.5-Gyr-old hydrothermal precipitates from Pilbara craton, Australia. Our results indicate that the extracted fluids contain microbial methane with carbon isotopic compositions of less than -56 per thousand included within original precipitates. This provides the oldest evidence of methanogen (> 3.46 Gyr ago), pre-dating previous geochemical evidence by about 700 million years.

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