Week of 11/18/13
ODU professor, researchers discover fossil of historic proportions
(WVEC-TV, Nov. 15, 2013)
Old Dominion University Associate Professor Nora Noffke and a team of researchers are being credited with a fossil discovery of historic proportions.
The discovery advances the age of the earliest known fossils by 300 million years.
In a remote area of Western Australia, colonies of bacteria that lived 3.5 billion years ago were discovered.
"The fossilized remains of microbial mats were the key," said Noffke.
"Living micro organisms actually communicated with each other within these mats," added Noffke.
In her office inside the Oceanography and Geology building at ODU, Noffke showed pieces of microbial mats that can be found along sandy river beds and beaches in Hampton Roads. (More)
Cheng to speak at ODU on Virginia-China ties
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 15, 2013)
Jim Cheng, the state secretary of commerce and trade, will speak Wednesday night at Old Dominion University on "Virginia-China: Foreign Trade and Investment Opportunities."
His speech is free and open to the public. It will be 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Ted Constant Convocation Center. People interested in attending should RSVP by Monday by calling 683-3116 or going to www.odu.edu/ao/univevents and using the event code CCL13.
For more information, call 683-7059.
Cheng's talk is sponsored by Old Dominion's Confucius Institute and the university's China Center. (More)
Virginia coalition pushes access to dental care
(The Daily Press, Nov. 15, 2013)
Last week the Virginia Oral Health Coalition hosted a summit in Richmond to promote better dental care in Virginia. The nonprofit is committed to raising awareness of the connection between dental health and overall health, with a particular emphasis on the health of pregnant women and children. "We have direct service days, but we're working to change policy so we don't have to provide charity care," said Sarah Holland, executive director, VOHC.
The coalition, an outgrowth of Virginians for Increased Access to Dental Care, formed in 2010 and is funded by a grant from the DentaQuest Foundation. It is advocating for an expansion of Medicaid in Virginia - even with a limited dental benefit - because it would improve oral care and reduce associated hospital costs. Its web site points to dental-related problems as the top reason uninsured patients visit the emergency room. ...
The coalition is touting dental health as key to comprehensive, preventive health care through programs at Eastern Virginia Medical School and Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children, and poor oral health accounts for more than one million lost school hours annually. Oral infections are also linked to heart disease, diabetes and poor pregnancy outcomes. (More)
(Hampton Roads Magazine, November, 2013)
Down at the north end of Colley, there's a British guy who's "not your grandmom" -though he and his colleagues sure cook like they are (and love the reaction).
Damian Gordon grins and moves his hands in happiness, showing how he rubbed a lamb roast with garlic and rosemary before putting it into the oven for today's special. Beside it he'll serve sautéed string beans, and sweet potatoes sliced thick and rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper and just a touch of Cajun heat, all of it drizzled with a marsala gravy.
Gordon is the Southern grandmother creating the specials and cooking the enormous meals served at Chow, the comfort-food restaurant that opened in December on the north end of Colley in Norfolk. Except he is neither Southern nor a grandmother. Gordon, 32, grew up in London, a blend of Jamaican and English blood. Yet his chicken and dumplings is created Deep South style, the broth made of cooked-down chicken carcasses, plus onion, garlic, carrots, celery and potatoes, all simmered together until the gravy is thick and rich. ...
Gordon worked down on the Oceanfront as a cook at Mahi Mah's Seafood and Sushi while he studied psychology at Old Dominion University. He wanted to be a therapist, but the cooking grabbed him and he went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in Pittsburgh. "You either really love cooking or you don't like it at all," he says. "Either it's in you or it's not." (More)
Shopping season begins for health care marketplace
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 17, 2013)
As the fight over the Affordable Care Act continues in Washington, people in South Hampton Roads are planning for 2014 - when most will be required to carry health insurance or pay a penalty.
For some, that means going shopping.
More than 415,000 Virginians - about 5 percent of the population - buy health plans through the individual market rather than get coverage through an employer or enroll in a government program.
Some of the state's 1 million people without insurance also will choose individual policies as the mandate takes effect. ...
Conrad Schesventer doesn't go to the doctor - not since he broke his thumb playing basketball more than two years ago.
The Affordable Care Act allowed him to stay on his parents' health insurance policy until last year, when he turned 26.
After that, his father strongly encouraged him to buy his own plan, and he did. It cost $67.50 a month, which Schesventer could swing with his wages as a desk clerk at an Oceanfront hotel.
That's the job that pays the bills as he works to get his career rolling, applying for high school assistant coaching positions and volunteering as a youth soccer coach. Schesventer holds a master's degree in sports management from Old Dominion University and wants to be the next Bobby Wilder, the school's highly successful football coach. (More)
VB council agrees to hire consultants to study proposals to extend the Tide
(Inside Business, Nov. 15, 2013)
In 2012, Virginia Beach voters gave the go-ahead for the Virginia Beach City Council to study the prospect of extending Norfolk's light rail to Virginia Beach.
The question was: "Should the city council adopt an ordinance approving the use of all reasonable efforts to support the financing and development of the Tide light rail into Virginia Beach?"
More than 60 percent of voters answered "Yes."
Last week, the Virginia Beach City Council took the voters' blessing to heart - to the tune of $447,000. ...
The three proposals - two of which council agreed last week to accept in addition to an earlier proposal - are from Parsons Construction Group, American Maglev Technology of Georgia and a partnership including Phil Shucet, Skanska and AECOM.
Shucet's group submitted its proposal last April to extend light rail from Newtown Road to Rosemont Road.
The group puts the price tag for the project at $253 million. Shucet is a former Virginia Department of Transportation commissioner and former president and CEO of Hampton Roads Transit who took over the position to launch the Tide in Norfolk.
American Maglev Technology says it can extend light rail to the Oceanfront using magnetic solar-powered trains for $344 million. This would be the company's first public transportation project.
Councilman Jim Wood suggested rejecting the American Maglev Technology proposal, saying the company hasn't proven itself capable of such a project because of its failed project at ODU in 1999. (More)
In for the long haul at Phila. Marathon
(The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 17, 2013)
Some people jog for exercise, some for fun, some to lose weight or sleep better.
Nicole Duchman runs for her health - physical and mental.
For her, the steady movement of legs and torso across pavement is a way to allay the emotional trauma of war, experienced as an Army specialist in Iraq. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome that can cause her to become irritable and frustrated, running offers respite and freedom.
"It calms me down, lets me focus, lets me settle," Duchman said.
On Sunday, Duchman, 32, will join in the 20th annual Philadelphia Marathon, a weekend-long event expected to draw 60,000 spectators and 30,000 runners, the largest field ever. ...
She grew up as a bookish child in Hughesville, Pa., near Williamsport. In high school, she noticed she could be physically lazy, not wanting to run with the rest of the soccer team. She didn't like that about herself.
"I decided, 'I'll join the Army. I'll force myself out of my comfort zone.' It was going to help pay for college, get me out of a small town."
She joined the Virginia National Guard and at age 18 went off for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
Twelve years ago she was enrolled at Old Dominion University when the planes hit the towers and everything changed. (More)
Tax fairness would allow Americans to invest again
(Opinion, The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 17, 2013)
By Maria Fornella
Paying back taxes is one of the requirements for undocumented workers hoping to join the "pathway to citizenship" included in the immigration reform the U.S. Senate passed this summer.
That won't stop any of the immigrants I've worked with over the years from pursuing their dream of joining the mainstream of society. Many already have payroll and income taxes withheld from their paychecks; some pay taxes voluntarily as independent contractors.
They recognize that taxes help pay for everything they love about America.
If only American corporations were as patriotic. Despite complaints that corporate taxes are too high, corporations on average pay only a third of the official federal income tax rate, according to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office.
As a result, the slice of total federal revenue coming from the corporate income tax is at its lowest level since the 1950s, the Office of Management and Budget found.
How do huge corporations manage to dodge so much of their tax responsibility? Unlike Main Street businesses and domestic manufacturers, multinational firms can play an international shell game with their profits, sheltering cash in dummy corporations they establish in foreign tax havens. ...
Maria Fornella, a lecturer of political science and geography at Old Dominion University, is a volunteer advocate for immigration reform. The nonprofit Virginia Forum, a group of community activists working to stimulate policy debate, distributed this column. (More)
Medal of Honor recipient Sal Giunta to speak at ODU
(Video, WVEC-TV, Nov. 14, 2013)
(WVEC news story by military reporter Mike Gooding, featuring Medal of Honor recipient and Old Dominion University President's Lecture Series speaker Sal Giunta). (More)
ODU professor, team uncover oldest fossils yet
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 15, 2013)
An Old Dominion University professor and fellow researchers have reported finding the oldest fossil evidence yet of ancient life on Earth - colonies of bacteria that lived nearly 3.5 billion years ago.
Perhaps most surprising to the scientists, it appears the ancient single-cell microbes banded together in complex, interdependent communities and were able to communicate with each other by secreting chemical substances that could be understood by their neighbors - even those of different bacterial strains.
"Life 3.5 billion years ago was not that simple. It was already quite highly developed," ODU geobiologist Nora Noffke said in an interview Thursday.
Noffke and her team found the ancient fossils in sedimentary sandstone in the Pilbara region of western Australia, known for its ancient rock formations that have lain for eons undisturbed by tectonic movement.
Previous field work by Noffke and other researchers had found microbial fossils ranging up to nearly 3.2 billion years old. The new findings advance the age of the earliest known fossils by 300 million years.
Scientists in Australia determined the age of the sandstone by analyzing the half-life of certain isotopes in the rock's volcanic ash. (More)
Oldest complete fossil discovered
(The Japan Times, Nov. 15, 2013)
What may be the oldest complete fossil on Earth paints a smelly but colorful picture of our microbial ancestors from nearly 3.5 billion years ago.
The fossil is the remains of what once was a slimy, smelly, purple-and-green mat of single-celled microbes that worked, lived and even communicated in what was a lot like a prehistoric microscopic society.
Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University in the U.S. found the remnants of this life in sandstone rock in Western Australia.
This is likely an ancestor of ours, researchers said.
This tiny fossilized mat, about 8 mm thick, appears to be about 300 million years older than previous complete ancient fossils and about the same age as less complete and still debatable fossils, said study co-author Robert Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington. He said life on the mat probably had turned sunlight into energy, but probably producing "horribly smelly" sulfur instead of oxygen.
The research was published online last week in the journal Astrobiology. (More)
Battle-Edmonds makes her mark, raises eyebrows
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 15, 2013)
The quote was fake.
The voter guide was doctored.
And the smiling politicians in the pictures didn't really support her.
But the votes - all 16,017 of them - were real.
Sherry Battle-Edmonds, a former bail bondswoman and fashion model turned perennial long-shot political candidate, has repeatedly been accused of misleading voters in her campaigns.
She went from a fringe candidate to a more serious contender for public office. Citywide, as an independent in a two-way race for Norfolk commissioner of the revenue, she won 38 percent of the vote - almost as much as the losing Republican candidate for treasurer, who won 40 percent.
The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is looking into the complaints about Battle-Edmonds' tactics.
But political speech is much less restricted than other forms of advertising, said Jesse Richman, a political science professor at Old Dominion University.
"The notion being that free speech is so paramount that dishonest political speech still deserves protection," he said. "Obviously, there's an ethical line that gets crossed any time a candidate puts forth intentionally misleading campaign material." (More)
Remainders: An Intriguing Three-Year Evolution
(Veer, Nov. 14, 2013)
By Betsy DiJulio
The well-spring of the creative process is often elusive, even to the maker. And therein lies much of its allure. However, when the artist is also a literary scholar, s/he is perhaps likely to have spent more time than most analyzing from whence it all came...and why...not to mention articulating same.
In a talk given upon the opening of her exhibition "Remainders," Mourão, a full professor of literature at ODU, articulated three impulses that occupied some three years of this project's evolution. Long interested in synthesizing her two identities as scholar and artist while giving personal experience and cultural heritage their due, she began this particular interdisciplinary project in response to the receipt of a box of 40 unsold copies of her first published scholarly book, Altered Habits: Reconsidering the Nun in Fiction (Florida UP, 2002). As is customary, the University of Florida Press returned to her these "remaindered" copies left in their warehouse after the book went out of print.
As the project took shape, 1) it came to participate in the dialogue of the book as material object in contemporary art (e.g. Brian Dettmer and Jaqueline Rush Lee); 2) it highlighted the contrast between the "almost unreasonable importance" of a first book in the life of an academic and the lowly status of the physical copies once the book has gone out of print; and 3) more complexly, it allowed Mourão to reiterate and expand the original thesis of her book. (More)
ODU, Virginia Tech agree to long-term football series
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 14, 2013)
Old Dominion and Virginia Tech announced they have agreed to a four-year, home-and-home football series.
John Ballein, Tech's associate athletic director for football operations, said he and ODU athletic director Wood Selig agreed to terms of the deal Wednesday afternoon. As a result, the schools will meet seven times over nine seasons beginning in 2017.
The new agreement calls for the Hokies to come to Norfolk in 2022 and 2024 and for ODU to play return games in Blacksburg in 2023 and 2025. Tech had previously agreed to a two-for-one deal that called for the Hokies to host ODU in 2017 and 2019 and play in Norfolk in 2018.
Selig said a long-term arrangement with Tech was his top scheduling priority from the time that ODU decided to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
"What a great day this is for ODU, for our program and for our fans," he said. "This is a great harbinger of where we think we can go with our scheduling."
Tech originally offered to sign another two-for-one deal with ODU, but Ballein said he agreed when Selig suggested a home-and-home series.
"I think it makes perfect sense to play an in-state school that's up and coming," said Ballein, a former coach at Wilson and Western Branch high schools.
"We recruit that area. It's an opportunity for our fans in that area to see us there and the opportunity for ODU fans to see the other side of the state." (More)
'World's oldest fossil' found in Western Australia
(Brisbane (Australia) Times, Nov. 14, 2013)
What may be the oldest complete fossil on earth paints a smelly but colourful picture of our microbial ancestors from nearly 3.5 billion years ago.
The fossil is the remains of what once was a purple-and-green slimy, smelly mat of single-cell microbes that worked, lived and even communicated in what is a lot like a prehistoric microscopic society.
Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University in the US found the remnants of this life in sandstone rock in Western Australia.
This is likely an ancestor of ours, researchers said.
This tiny fossilised mat, about 8.3 millimetres thick, would be about 300 million years older than previous complete ancient fossils and about the same age as less complete and still debatable fossils, said study co-author Robert Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington.
He said life on the mat probably had turned sunlight into energy, but probably produced "horribly smelly" sulfur instead of oxygen.
The research was published online last week in the journal Astrobiology.
NASA astrobiologist Abigail Allwood, who found slightly younger fossils a few years ago, said it is challenging to prove the fossil contained life. (More)
Oldest complete fossil paints picture of life's stinky origins
(Vancouver Province/The Associated Press, Nov. 13, 2013)
What may be the oldest complete fossil on Earth paints a smelly but colourful picture of our microbial ancestors from nearly 3.5 billion years ago.
The fossil is the remains of what once was a purple-and-green slimy, smelly mat of single cell microbes that worked, lived and even communicated in what is a lot like a prehistoric microscopic society.
Nora Noffke of Old Dominion University in the U.S. found the remnants of this life in sandstone rock in western Australia.
It is likely an ancestor of ours, researchers said.
The tiny fossilized mat, about 8.3 millimetres thick, would be about 300 million years older than previous complete ancient fossils and about the same age as less complete and still debatable fossils, said study co-author Robert Hazen, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington.
Hazen said life on the mat probably had turned sunlight into energy, but probably produced "horribly smelly" sulfur instead of oxygen.
The research was published online last week in the journal Astrobiology.
NASA astrobiologist Abigail Allwood, who found slightly younger fossils a few years ago, said it is challenging to prove the fossil contained life.
But Hazen said they used dozens of criteria to show that the microscopic features fit with what science knows about ancient life. (More)
Festival of food, dance and culture returns to Scope
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 14, 2013)
Scope will be transformed Saturday when the 18th annual India Fest takes over and converts the large, open canvas of space into a shimmering cacophony of colors, lights, sounds and exotic smells.
Admission is free, but donations of non-perishable or canned goods will be accepted by the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia.
The festival is put on by the Asian Indians of Hampton Roads (AIHR), a non-profit organization that is involved with local fundraising and charity events throughout the year, as well as international goodwill efforts such as the International Children's Festival, a joint program with the World Affairs Council. ...
New attractions are added to the program annually to keep the festival fresh and encourage more people to attend, said Dey.
This year, they will be debuting a Lego building competition and an international showcase that will focus on a particular region each year, which they will be kickstarting with the Pacific Islander American Group of Virginia.
This will be the festival's third year at Scope. It was moved from the Old Dominion University campus after steadily increasing in popularity and participation. Last year's event drew nearly 5,000 people. (More)
Medal of Honor recipient to speak in Norfolk
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 13, 2013)
Whether he's home in Colorado with his wife and young daughter, or waking up in yet another generic hotel room, Sal Giunta has a morning ritual: He makes his bed.
Doesn't matter if he's staying in a luxury hotel with maid service or enjoying a day off at home. Wherever he awakes, the former soldier pulls up the sheet, smooths out the blankets, arranges the pillows.
During two tours of duty in Afghanistan, Giunta never slept in a proper bed. He and his fellow infantrymen crawled into sleeping bags and racked out on a floor - or the ground - every night.
Making the bed is a brief, physical reminder of his good fortune.
"Life here in America is very cushy," said Giunta, who will speak Thursday night at Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Convocation Center. "A bad day here is nothing like a bad day somewhere else. I hope people will never have to feel the hardships of combat themselves.... I don't take any day for granted."
Giunta, who left the Army in 2011 as a staff sergeant, describes himself as "an average soldier."
His military record suggests otherwise.
Three years ago, Giunta received the Medal of Honor - the first living recipient of the military's highest award since the Vietnam War. (More)
What Ender's Game Tells Us About Real Drone Pilots
(Opinion, Slate, Nov. 12, 2013)
By D.E. Wittkower
News that Lionsgate is considering a TV series spinoff rather than a sequel to Ender's Game will not sit well with many fans of the series, but there's a clear advantage to spending more time with the Battle School featured in the movie, rather than moving along to the quieter story of Speaker for the Dead: the distinctive issues of warfare and officer training in the International Fleet give us an opportunity to spend more time thinking about the technologies of simulation and distance that we're just now starting to come to grips with in the real world.
Recent studies have shown that drone pilots are subject to psychological trauma just like soldiers in the field. If we thought PTSD was merely about suffering injury and being at risk of death, we were clearly wrong: there is a moral injury that comes from committing violence as well, and the asymmetrical nature of that violence does not eliminate this fact. Trauma is not just what horrors we suffer, but what horrors we commit as well.
This is something that Orson Scott Card addressed compellingly in Ender's Game, many years before it became the fact of war that it is today. The distance that Ender finds himself in while commanding a distant fleet in no way shields him from the trauma of what he's done. ...
D.E. Wittkower, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, is co-editor (with Lucinda Rush) of Ender's Game and Philosophy. (More)
Scientists Discover 3.5 billion-year-Old Bacterial Ecosystems In Australia
(Headlines and Global News, Nov. 13, 2013)
Evidence of 3.5 billion-year-old bacterial ecosystems was discovered preserved in sedimentary rock sequence in Australia, believed to be the oldest rock on Earth.
Scientists are always striving to unravel the mysteries behind earth's evolution. A recent discovery of very rare and oldest sedimentary rocks might help in untangling the secrets. Not only are they rare, mostly all of them are always altered by tectonic and hydrothermal activities. Researchers from Old Dominion University and the University of Western Australia uncovered well-preserved remnants of a complex ecosystem in a nearly 3.5 billion-year-old sedimentary rock sequence in Australia, according to a University release. ...
The study also described many MISS preserved in the region's Dresser Formation and a chemical analysis revealed the possibility of a biological origin of the material. Researchers also noted that the Dresser MISS resembled other MISS obtained from younger rock samples from 2.9 billion-year-old ecosystem.
"This work extends the geological record of MISS by almost 300 million years," said Nora Noffke, who is also a professor at ODU. "Complex mat-forming microbial communities likely existed almost 3.5 billion years ago." (More)
U.S. Airways, American Airlines merger settlement reached; service to continue at Va. airports
(The Daily Press, Nov. 13, 2013)
The U.S. Department of Justice and several states, including Virginia, announced a settlement agreement Tuesday allowing the merger of U.S. Airways and American Airlines, creating the largest commercial airline in the country.
As a result of the settlement with Virginia and other states, the new airline, which will operate under the American Airlines name, will have to keep service at every Virginia airport currently serviced by U.S. Airways and American for at least five years.
The terms of the agreement are particularly important at Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, where U.S. Airways is the largest single carrier, with 49 percent of the market share this year, according to Ken Spirito, executive director of the airport. ...
The airline merger might push local fares higher, according to Gary Wagner, an economist at Old Dominion University.
"The issue about how much fares might be expected to increase will vary depending on the passenger demand for specific routes and the number of competing airlines that fly to that destination," Wagner said. "In other words, a high-demand route with no other competing airline will experience the highest fare increases. It's hard to generalize the expected increase because they are so destination-demand specific," he said. (More)
"Ender's Game" theme strikes nerve among military
(The Virginian-Pilot, Nov. 12, 2013)
Mixed reviews. Modest ticket sales. "Ender's Game" isn't the blockbuster Hollywood hoped for, but its theme strikes a nerve in a military town, where war is a major industry.
The $110 million movie, released Nov. 1, is set in a Star Wars-like future but treads on timeless ground - the ethics of armed conflict and the moral pit of the combat kill.
Based on an award-winning 1985 novel that's long been on the reading list of the Marine Corps, "Ender's Game" tells the tale of an Earth that recruits its most talented and ruthless children to defeat an alien threat.
The plot pries open a topic even seasoned soldiers find hard to discuss. Survival might be at stake, the orders and the enemy clear, but war's most profoundly personal act - taking a life - can scar the survivor.
D.E. Wittkower, an assistant philosophy professor at Old Dominion University, has never been in combat. But he's explored its impact on those who have, contributing, along with 30 other heavy thinkers, to "Ender's Game and Philosophy: Genocide is Child's Play" - a dissection of not only the novel but war itself and the "guardians" we dispatch to wage it.
The warrior role, Wittkower said, is "filled with moral peril. We can't expect people to engage in war without becoming damaged. That's one reason military suicide rates are so high." (More)
Hampton Roads residents await news from relatives in ravaged area in the Philippines
(The Daily Press, Nov. 12, 2013)
Yoyong Melicor sat by the phone all weekend waiting for news on his daughter's in-laws who live in Tacloban, Philippines, a city devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the country early Friday.
On Sunday, Melicor - who is owner of Egg Roll Hut Filipino Fast Food in Newport News - said he found out his daughter's in-laws' home was severely damaged by the typhoon, but they were safe.
"My daughter who lives in Manila called after receiving a text message," Melicor said. "She shed tears of joy. It was mental torture." ...
Of about 2.4 million people of Filipino descent in the U.S., Melicor is among 45,000 or so who live in Hampton Roads, giving the area one of the highest concentrations of Filipino-Americans in the country, according to a 2007 report by James V. Koch, an economics professor and president emeritus at Old Dominion University.
Melicor said the storm surge reached the second floor of the family's three-story town home. He said as water began rising, the family - which included his daughter's mother- and father-in-law, her sister-in-law and her sister-in-law's children - took shelter in a second-floor bathroom. (More)
Traces of 'Microbial Cities' a Record 3.49 Billion Years Old Discovered --"Communicating Via Chemical Signals"
(The Daily Galaxy, Nov. 11, 2013)
Scientists analyzing some of the planet's oldest rocks, located in Western Australia's Pilbara region, have discovered traces of bacteria that thrived a record-breaking 3.49 billion years ago, only one billion years after Earth formed.. These textures on the surfaces of sandstone thought to be sculpted by once-living organisms that lived in the equivalent of microbial cities. The sandstone hosted thousands of kinds of bacteria, each specialized for a different task and communicating with the others via chemical signals.
These are "our oldest ancestors," said Nora Noffke, a biogeochemist at Old Dominion University, who was part of the group that made the discovery. Similar traces are found today along parts of Tunisia's coast, created by thick mats of bacteria that trap and glue together sand particles. The ancient and pristine Pilbara landscape was once shoreline during the Archean eon, which ended 2.5 billion years ago.
Many of the textures seen in the Australian rocks had already shown up in 2.9 billion-year-old rocks from South Africa, found by Noffke and colleagues in 2007. "But these are the best-preserved sedimentary rocks we know of, the ones most likely to preserve the really tiny structures and chemicals that provide evidence for life," says said Maud Walsh, a biogeologist at Louisiana State University. (More)