Earth Gases May Provide Clues to Evolution of Life

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These findings, which are published in the April 4 issue of the journal Nature, have broad implications.

Reconsidering Gases as Signature of Life

"Often when methane was found at great depths it was immediately regarded as a signature of life," said Bennett. "Now this must be reconsidered."

More exciting, said Bennett, is that the hydrocarbons provide a food source for life forms living deep within the Earth where there is no light. "I'm itching to go down these mine shafts and see what else might be living down there," he added.

"We have found life as deep as we have cared to look, between three and four kilometers down, and have so far found no limits," said Bennett.

While the prospect of more fuel reserves may be sure to prick up ears, Sherwood Lollar emphasizes, "this is not the answer to the next gas crisis."

"The quantities of gas present are large from a scientific point of view but are certainly not economically viable, and I do not believe that they contribute to major gas deposits."

Producing hydrocarbons through chemical methods is very slow and inefficient compared to conventional natural gas reserves, said Kvenvolden. "It would be a real stretch to consider these energy sources in the future."

Although the new findings provide insight into how and where simple organic molecules formed, both Bennett and Sherwood Lollar are hopeful that life forms discovered in these mines might shed light on early evolution.

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