Or so goes the claim made a few days ago by a group of Australian and British geologists. They may have stumbled upon rudimentary lifeforms – single-celled organisms – that are as much as 3.4 billion years old. This would mean that life emerged relatively quickly following Earth’s formation, which may hold vast implications about the origin of life on this planet. It’s simply amazing to think that we’re still stumbling upon things that have remained hidden for an unfathomable amount of time. It’s seems like every year we uncover some new piece of evidence regarding our vast biological origins.
Of course, there will be many disputes regarding the validity of this finding. As the New York Times article I linked to notes:
Microfossils — the cell-like structures found in ancient rocks — have become a highly contentious field, both because of the pitfalls in proving that they are truly biological and because the scientific glory of having found the oldest known fossil has led to pitched battles between rival claimants…Rocks older than 3.5 billion years have been so thoroughly cooked as to destroy all cellular structures, but chemical traces of life can still be detected.
Indeed, the article notes previous conflicts between scientists who claimed to have discovered what were then the most ancient fossils, only to be challenged by colleagues who believed they were mistakenly identifying inorganic mineral pockets. There will no doubt be similar questions raised, and the authors of the scientific report cautiously admit there is no direct evidence of these things being organic lifeforms, just a good amount of circumstantial evidence strongly leading to that conclusion.
Jerry Coyne, a prominent biologist, made an excellent analysis of this discovery in his own blog, Why Evolution Is True (which I’ve subscribed to). Since my time is short, and my expertise nowhere near as great as his, I’ll leave you to check out the post I’ve hyper-linked above for a detailed explanation.
All I know is that I can’t wait for the day when we may very well have a clearer picture of how life developed and evolved on this planet. It’s remarkable how a few specks of organic material could lead to the beautiful and intricate web of life we have today. Through all these billions of years and millions of extinctions, life has continued to prosper and persevere against unimaginable changes. Who would’ve thought a few basic cells could yield such a beautiful narrative?