by Alain Tiquet

NVIDIA technology recently played a key part in the discovery of the world’s oldest fossils.

Researchers have concluded that one-centimeter-long structures found in Gabon are the remains of multicellular life forms from 2.1 billion years ago. These fossils are more than 200 million years older than what was thought to be the oldest fossils on Earth. They predate by 1.5 billion years the Cambrian explosion – a period when most multicellular life experience rapid change. Their existence helps paleobiologists to learn more about the conditions of early living organisms.


So, what was NVIDIA’s role in helping establish this new link in evolutionary history?

Scientists involved in the fossil discovery used a technique called “microtomography-based imaging” to analyze the fossils. This technique employs X-rays to take images of multiple cross sections of an object – the same technique that is used in medical imaging, but on a much smaller scale.


Where GPUs come in is to carry out the incredibly computationally intensive work involved in reconstructing the images from individual X-ray slices. Etudes Recherches Matériaux, based in Poitiers, France, completed the reconstruction and rendering using an NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600 and a Tesla C870 with Digisens DigiCT software. This software is dedicated to electron tomography for biology and materials sciences including: alignment, reconstruction, visualisation and universal data export for quantitative analysis.

Digisens is one of the Emerging Companies that presented at our Emerging Companies Summit in 2009. You can see videos of their work, here (in French).