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Fool's gold provides insight into earth's evolution

A scanning electron microscope image of cubes of pyrite
Image caption Scientists have recreated ancient forms of the mineral pyrite

Fool's gold is providing scientists from Edinburgh University with insights into how the earth was formed.

They have recreated ancient forms of the mineral pyrite, dubbed fool's gold for its metallic lustre, in order to reveal details of past geological events.

The scientists said they can gain a greater understanding of a turning point in the earth's evolution by examining pyrite.

The research is published in Science.

Researchers said that a detailed analysis of the composition of pyrite has given them new information about the earth before the Great Oxygenation Event, which took place 2.4 billion years ago.

This was a time when oxygen released by early forms of bacteria gave rise to new forms of plant and animal life, transforming the earth's oceans and atmosphere.

The latest research shows that bacteria - which would have been an abundant life form at the time - did not influence the early composition of pyrite.

This result, which contrasts with previous thinking, gives scientists a much clearer picture of the process.

Dr Ian Butler, who led the research, said: "Technology allows us to trace scientific processes that we can't see from examining the mineral composition alone, to understand how compounds were formed.

"This new information about pyrite gives us a much sharper tool with which to analyse the early evolution of the earth, telling us more about how our planet was formed."

Dr Romain Guilbaud, investigator on the study, said: "Our discovery enables a better understanding of how information on the earth's evolution, recorded in ancient minerals, can be interpreted."

The research has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Edinburgh Collaborative of Subsurface Science and Engineering.

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