Life inside rocks? New fossil discovery pushes life on Earth to 3.5 billion years

Recently a study about prehistoric fossil microorganisms has revealed that possibly life on our home planet Earth had evolved nearly 3.5 billion years earlier, a time which was quite early in the history of the planet. Researchers found the micro-organisms were found in Western Australia preserved within the rocks.

According to the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, among all the species that the researchers studied, two executed an ancient process of photosynthesis, two more devoured methane gas and built cell walls using it and another one apparently created methane gas. The experts made use of a technology known as secondary ion mass spectroscopy (SIMS) to test these microorganisms.

"By 3.465 billion years ago, life was already diverse on Earth. These are the first data that show the very diverse organisms at that time in Earth's history and our previous research has shown that there were sulphur users 3.4 billion years ago as well," said William Schopf, the lead author of the study and a Paleobiology professor at the University of California Los Angeles.

"This tells us life had to have begun substantially earlier and it confirms that it was not difficult for primitive life to form and to evolve into more advanced microorganisms," added Professor Schopf.

This evidence of a varied group of organisms getting evolved so early in the history of Earth also strengthens the fact that life might have existed in other places of the universe as well because it would be extremely unlikely that life appeared so early and rapidly on Earth but didn't emerge anywhere else, stated the study.

However, the scientists are still not certain about the exact time when life might have first formed. "But if the conditions are right, it looks like life in the universe should be widespread. The study conducted detailed analysis of the microorganisms preserved in ancient fossils. The rocks we studied are about as far back as rocks go," said Schopf.

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As per the findings, the rocks that were analyzed had fossils, which were formed at that point of time when Earth had a very small amount of oxygen in its atmosphere. The concentration of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere started to mount just about two billion years ago and oxygen would've proved to be poisonous and deadly for these microorganisms stated the professor.

This article was first published on December 20, 2017