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Chinese researchers have found some puzzling organic stuff in deep-sea rock that may shed new light on the origins of life.

They analysed the carbon-rich, somewhat fatty compounds to look for what life forms were involved in their formation, or a possible hint of an oil reserve.

They found none, not even a trace of bacteria. After examining all possible explanations, the researchers proposed that the organic materials could have come from nowhere and were created by the rock itself.

The unusual rock, retrieved from 6,400 metres (21,000 feet) under the Pacific Ocean, may “generate the first building blocks for the origin of life”, said the team, led by Professor Peng Xiaotong of the Institute of Deep Sea Science and Engineering, in a paper published in journal Geology this month.

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