Rare Life Dating Back 3.5 Billion Years Found
Dr. Jan Michels, Christian-Albrechts-Universi
It might sound a bit cramped, but there's an entire world of organisms that can call a drop of water their home. And, up close, they look practically out-of-this-world. Each year, the Nikon Small World competition sets out to collect some of the best microphotography. Take a look at some of this year's most stunning images of creatures that live in water. This photo from Dr. Jan Michels of Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel in Kiel, Germany shows Temora longicornis, a marine copepod, from its ventral view at 10 times magnification.
SEE MORE PHOTOS: It's a Nikon Small World After All
Frank Fox, Fachhochschule Trier/Nikon Small W
This microphotograph shows the diatom Melosira moniliformis at 320 times its size.
Jonathan Franks, University of Pittsburgh/Nik
This algae biofilm photographed up-close makes what's usually referred to as "pond scum" look like art.
Michael Shribak and Dr. Irina Arkhipova, Mari
This Philodina roseola rotifer was alive and well when this microphotograph was taken.
Dr. Ralf Wagner/Nikon Small World
This microphoto shows a water flea flanked by green algae.
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Charles Krebs Photography/Nikon Small World
Warfare in a water droplet! This microphoto shows a Hydra capturing a water flea at 40-times magnification.
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Dr. John H. Brackenbury, University of Cambri
One of the ultimate human pests -- the mosquito -- begins life as larvae, here shown suspended in a single droplet of water.
Gerd A. Guenther/Nikon Small World
Ever wonder what sex between two freshwater ciliates looks like magnified at 630 times its actual size? Now you know!
Joan Rohl, Institute for Biochemistry and Bio
This freshwater water flea is shown at 100 times its actual size.
Wolfgang Bettighofer/Nikon Small World
Closterium lunula, a kind of green alga, is shown here. This particular specimen came from a bog pond, according to the photographer.
John Gaynes, University of Utah/Nikon Small W
While it may resemble a visitor from outer space, this is what a zebrafish embryo looks like under a microscope, three days after being fertilized.
Dr. Carlos Alberto Muñoz, University of Puer
This microscopic crustacean appears yellowish-orange because it is mounted in Canada Balsam with crystals and other artifacts.
Gloppy mats of microscopic life left the same signature on coastal and river bank sediments 3.48 billion years ago that they do today. Earth scientists recently discovered that signature, known as a “microbially induced sedimentary structure” (MISS), on rocks from 300 million years earlier than any previously known MISS fossils.
A rock surface displaying “polygonal oscillation cracks” in the 3.48 billion years old Dresser Formation, Pilbara region, Western Australia. (Nora Noffke)
To this day, MISS still forms in pools of stagnant water along rivers and lakes or in the muck of coastal mud flats. Complex communities of microorganisms form layers of slimy life in the moist environment. Over time the microbial mat etches its biological graffiti into rock after being buried by sediments and eventually turned to stone. MISS consists of visible polygonal cracks and gas domes in the rock, along with tell-tale microscopic features.
“The structures give a very clear signal on what the ancient conditions were, and what the bacteria composing the biofilms were able to do,” said Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University, lead author of the paper published in Astrobiology, in a press release.
Noffke and her colleagues mapped the fossilized microbial community down to the millimeter scale in rocks from the Pilbara district of western Australia. That district already claimed paleontological fame for the window on ancient life provided by fossilized stromatolites from there. Stromatolites look like large rocky mushrooms or cow poop plops. For the past 3.5 billion years, microscopic life has constructed the stony lumps by trapping sediments.
Stromatolites once dominated ancient seashores. Now, they form only in a few locations, including Shark Bay, on the coast of western Australia relatively close to where both the fossilized MISS and ancient stromatolites exist.
Top Image: A modern day bacterial mat in run-off from Black Pool at West Thumb, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA. (Acroterion, Wikimedia Commons)