Advanced Life Is Older Than We Thought, And That's Terrifying -

By: Karl Bruun, Nostoca Algae Laboratory, WA, USA. Differential Interference Contrast, 400X

Your thoughts, may at times wonder to considering how long life has been around. On earth, there’s compelling evidence to say that very basic life started 3.8 billion years ago. When I say basic, though, I mean far, far simpler than even modern bacteria. This was stuff that could barely be called life. So… when did life that we might recognize get its start?

Until this week, the consensus in the scientific community would have placed it around 1.2 billion years ago. But, Swedish researchers claim that they’ve found algae preserved in rock that predates the previous estimate by 400 million years. The algae are plant-like and multicellular, making it the oldest evidence of complex life yet.

Stefan Bengtson and his research team published their findings in PLOS Biology. Their paper describes two fossils that the team analyzed. Both are from central India, and several scans suggest that these algae used an early version of photosynthesis.

If these results are confirmed, then it could have major implications for life beyond Earth. The fact that life started so early and has endured for so long suggests that life is “easy” to make in the cosmic scheme of things.

Complex life, which is to say life that has all the parts we tend to see in modern cells, however, is obviously much harder for young planets to brew. But if we can push the date that complex life started on Earth, then we’d expect it to be more common on other worlds.

That in itself is a mixed blessing. If even complex life is easy to make, then we have to wonder why we haven’t seen more evidence of it. And, at the end of the day, there aren’t too many possibilities left after that. If complex organisms are common, then either our planet is among the first to evolve life, or mass extinction is just as common. Both scenarios kind of fly in the face of the futurist optimism we try to foster here at Geek. How awful would it be if it turns out that we’re the oldest and wisest beings in the galaxy? Or, if we can expect the apocalypse sometime in the near future? Right?

So, it’s cool that we can now say complex organisms are really old… but it also could mean there’s no real-world Star Trek-style Federation in our future.

Advanced Life Is Older Than We Thought, And That's Terrifying –


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