Ancient Fossils Unearth Earliest Known Evidence of Photosynthesis on Earth


In a groundbreaking study, scientists have discovered the oldest known evidence of photosynthesis, dating back to 1.75 billion years ago. This finding reshapes our understanding of the early evolution of life on Earth.

Discovery of Ancient Cyanobacteria

The evidence was found in ancient cyanobacteria fossils. These organisms, also known as blue-green algae, are believed to be the first to have used photosynthesis, the process of converting sunlight into chemical energy, ultimately producing oxygen. This new discovery, published in the journal Nature, pushes back the timeline of the first occurrence of photosynthesis significantly​​​​​​.

Importance of Thylakoid Membranes

Central to this discovery are structures known as thylakoid membranes, found within the cyanobacteria fossils. These membranes are crucial for the photosynthesis process, as they house the chlorophyll pigment that absorbs sunlight. Previously, the earliest fossil evidence of thylakoids was around 500 million years old, but this new find extends that record by over a billion years​​​​​​.

Implications for Earth’s Oxygen Levels

The evolution of photosynthetic cyanobacteria had a profound impact on Earth’s atmosphere. Before their appearance, the atmosphere was rich in carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor, but lacked oxygen. The advent of oxygen-producing photosynthesis by cyanobacteria led to the Great Oxidation Event around 2.45 billion years ago, significantly increasing atmospheric oxygen and paving the way for the evolution of oxygen-dependent life forms​​.

Research Methodology T

he research team examined cyanobacteria fossils from various locations, including Australia and the Canadian Arctic. By slicing the fossils into thin sections and using electron microscopy, they were able to observe the thylakoid structures. This method provided unambiguous evidence of photosynthetic capabilities in these ancient organisms​​​​.

Future Research Directions

This discovery opens new avenues for research into the early evolution of life on Earth. Scientists are keen to explore more such fossils to understand better when oxygenic photosynthesis evolved and how it contributed to the Great Oxidation Event. Further analysis of older fossils might also help pinpoint the emergence of complex cellular life on Earth​​​​.


The uncovering of 1.75 billion-year-old thylakoid membranes in cyanobacteria fossils marks a significant milestone in our understanding of life’s history on Earth. It not only pushes back the timeline of photosynthesis but also sheds light on the environmental conditions that led to the rise of complex life forms. This discovery underscores the importance of ancient microbial life in shaping the course of Earth’s evolutionary history.

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