Researchers have used advanced technology to unlock secrets about a fossil hoard in Scotland that could provide key information about early life on Earth. A team analysed a 400 million-year-old “treasure trove” from Aberdeenshire using methods including infrared light to obtain molecular information from cells, tissues and organisms preserved in the rock. Scientists who already knew what the fossils were examined were able to discover “molecular fingerprints” distinguishing between bacteria, fungi and other groups. The research indicates that certain obscure specimens from the Rhynie ecosystem were neither fungi nor lichens. The breakthrough also has the potential to provide information about the identity of life forms shown in other fossils that are less clearly preserved. The study‚Äôs authors say their work highlights the importance of applying physics and chemistry to palaeontology and of using museum collections in research.

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