Fossils: Lava-munching microbes had been the earliest life on land

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The Mkhonjwa geotrail, part of the Genesis Route between Barberton and Swaziland in Mpumalanga, South Africa

Friedrich von Horsten/Alamy

Volcanoes may have helped early microscopic organisms to colonise the land. The oldest known land-dwelling microorganisms lived in estuaries close to erupting volcanoes, which may have provided them with essential nutrients.

“This sedimentary environment, interacting with the volcanic environment, created the perfect conditions for life to spread,” says Deon Janse van Rensburg at the University of Jena in Germany.

Long before animals and plants, the only life on Earth was single celled. Fossils of microorganisms …

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