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Thursday, January 17, 2013

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Noffke Reports Advances in Early Life Research

Nora Noffke, an Old Dominion geobiologist who has won international recognition for research establishing microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) as one line of evidence of earliest life on Earth, presented her working group's latest findings - positing the existence of a 3.49 billion-year-old microbial ecosystem - during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Charlotte, N.C.

Sedimentary structures that Noffke's group has found in the Dresser Formation, Pilbara, Western Australia, are believed to be among the oldest evidence ever found of Earth's earliest life. The structures - due to their high age - might also provide scientists with clues about geologic evidence of microbial life that exists, or might have existed, on Mars.

In 2007, Noffke was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America in recognition of her research establishing MISS as evidence of the earliest life on Earth. She also won the 2007 James Lee Wilson Award of the Society of Sedimentary Geologists, which is given annually to recognize international excellence in marine geology by a young scientist. In 2010, her work was recognized with the GSA Geobiology Division Award for Outstanding Contribution in Geosciences.

Her research in South Africa, published over the past years, has turned up geological samples supporting her case that the microbial mats we see today covering tidal flats were also present as life was beginning on Earth. The mats, which are woven of cyanobacteria, can cause unusual textures and formations in the sand beneath them. Noffke has identified 17 main groups of such textures caused by present-day microbial mats, and has found corresponding structures in geological formations dating back through the ages.

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