Stromatolites have been discovered beyond the well-researched south-east corner of Hamelin Pool, in Shark Bay Western Australia, according to a researcher from Bush Heritage.

Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool, WA

Stromatolites at Hamelin Pool, WA

Erica Suosaari donned a wetsuit and spent three years being dragged behind a boat to investigate the entire pool for the first time.

She found stromatolites around almost the entire 135km margin.

“Stromatolites are a big deal,” says Erica.

“They are remnants of the oldest known life form. These structures dominate the fossil record for more than 80 per cent of the Earth’s history. The microbes that built them produced the oxygen that made animal life possible on earth,” she says.

“They represent a huge leap in our understanding of the diversity of modern and ancient life at the site. They effectively offer us a window into early life on Earth.”

Hamelin Pool is a World Heritage Area based partly on the fact that it is home to the largest and most diverse modern assemblage of stromatolites on the planet.

Stromatolites are the remains of living mats of bacteria that trap and bind surrounding sediments or precipitated carbonate cements, leaving behind a rock fabric that causes the structure to grow vertically.

And the bacteria that formed those ancient structures are the reason we’re alive. Their busy photosynthesis for the first few billion years of Earth’s history produced the oxygen that made animal life possible.

They were first discovered in the 1950s but, until now, research on the ancient structures has been concentrated in the south-eastern region of the bay.

Erica was determined to look further and investigated the entire pool for the first time.

She discovered distinct ‘provinces,’ where each has a different and distinct assemblage of stromatolite forms – a result of depth gradient and local environmental pressures.

She estimates there are 100 million stromatolites at the site, including fossils similar to those that existed long before modern times.

Contact: Erica Suosaari, Bush Heritage Australia, 0438 742 011, erica.suosaari@bushheritage.org.au

A Perth researcher’s discovery of links between preeclampsia in pregnancy with lack of coordination for teenagers many years later could lead to better results for those kids.

Tegan Grace at the University of Notre Dame Australia correlated the motor skills of children at the ages of 10, 14, and 17, against their mothers’ health during pregnancy.

She found that those teenagers whose mothers had suffered preeclampsia had lower movement scores and may be more prone to developmental coordination disorder, an under-diagnosed condition thought to affect between five and 15 per cent of Australians.

Preeclampsia (also known as toxaemia) is characterised by high blood pressure and fluid retention, and is the most common pregnancy complication, affecting one in 20 births.Teagan Picture1

It is believed preeclampsia may affect the development of a part of the baby’s brain known as the cerebellum, which is responsible for the coordination, precision, and accuracy of movement, as well as language and attention.

Children with developmental coordination disorder can struggle with fine motor skills such as tying shoelaces, doing up buttons, or applying makeup.

Others have difficulty with gross motor skills including kicking, running, catching or throwing, and often avoid playing sport as a result.

But Tegan’s discovery of a link with preeclampsia will help identify children at risk of poor motor development and ensure they receive the support they need to thrive.

If movement and coordination problems are identified early, movement programs can be introduced to im
prove children’s motor skills and help them stay active throughout their lives.

Contact: Tegan Grace, University of Notre Dame, 07-9433 0239, tegan.grace@nd.edu.au

Rocky asteroids were formed by collisions between giant, fairy floss-like dust clouds as our Solar System formed, according to planetary geologist Lucy Forman.

Lucy Forman

Lucy Forman

Working at Curtin University, Lucy used computer modelling to understand what happens when two fluffy clouds of space dust collide, calculating the resulting heat and pressure released between the dust particles.

And she confirmed the theory with physical proof by studying thin sections of an ancient, rocky meteorite that had fallen to Earth under an electron microscope.

In the slices of meteorite, Lucy found direct evidence of the heat and pressure her modelling had predicted in the way grains in the rock had bent and aligned, just as matchsticks in a pile on the floor would align if squeezed together.

The meteorite that Lucy studied fell in 1969, and is part of two tonnes of space rock known as the Allende meteorite after the town in Mexico where it fell.

Lucy found two different types of grain in the meteorite rock—large, round, marble-like grains, seemingly untouched by the effects of heat and pressure, surrounded by a matrix of very small grains that had been deformed by the heat and pressure of ancient collisions.

The matrix of small grey grains precisely matched the predictions of the computer modelling, which suggested the heat and pressure of collisions within dust clouds would be concentrated on regions that initially had lots of space around them.

The research has recently been published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

Contact: Lucy Forman, Curtin University, 0497 840 193, lucy.forman@postgrad.curtin.edu.au