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Science & Technology

Life may have emerged over 4 billion years ago

By T.K. Randall
September 28, 2017 · Comment icon 11 comments



Earth was once bombarded by comets and asteroids. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Scientists have made a discovery that could push back the emergence of life further than ever before.
The controversial findings are based on a recent analysis by researchers in Japan of graphite particles found in rocks from the Saglek region of northern Labrador, Canada.

The results of the study indicate that the rocks, which are thought to date back over 3.95 billion years, contain traces of primitive organisms, making this the earliest known example of life on our planet.

The problem however is that this would place the emergence of life within an extremely violent period of Earth's history during which the planet was being constantly bombarded by asteroids and comets left over from the formation of the solar system.

"It may be difficult to create life before 3.8bn years ago due to the bombardment, which may destroy early life," said senior researcher Yuji Sano from the University of Tokyo. "But now it is 4bn years."
"Life started on Earth during the heavy bombardment of meteorites, which is amazing."

Not everyone however is convinced that the Japanese team's findings are correct.

"Regardless of the veracity of the biogenic evidence from the graphite, the claim that it is the oldest requires that the geochronology is watertight," said scientist Martin Whitehouse.

"If it's younger than about 3.8bn years, it isn't very exciting anymore."

"I would say this fails the first test of proving an oldest anything in a region where igneous rocks have a range of ages between 3.9 and 3.7bn years old."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (11)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #2 Posted by bison 5 years ago
The further back in time the origin of life on Earth, the more inevitable life appears to be throughout the rest of the universe. The ease and rapidity with which life seemed to begin on Earth, even under conditions very different, and much less favorable than those that exist today, the more frequently it can be expected to exist on other worlds. 
Comment icon #3 Posted by paperdyer 5 years ago
Or at least life existed elsewhere. You'd think by now we would have "heard" or "seen" something to indicate a sentient species somewhere other than here. Perhaps they aren't as far in the development stage as we or they wiped themselves out as we keep threatening to do or something wiped them out or they are just ignoring us. If they are. you can't really blame them.
Comment icon #4 Posted by bison 5 years ago
We haven't been particularly good at hearing or seeing signs of intelligent life at stellar distances, until very recently. We're getting better at this, all the time, but still have a lot of combinations of radio and optical frequencies, sky directions, power levels, modulation schemes, schedules of transmission, etc., to explore. Dr. Jill Tarter, of the SETI Institute has likened this to dipping a glassful of water out of the ocean, finding no fish in it, and concluding that there are no fish in the ocean.  
Comment icon #5 Posted by pallidin 5 years ago
Good comments to an admittedly difficult topic.
Comment icon #6 Posted by spud the mackem 5 years ago
We keep reading that life started futher and further back but in real terms they haven't a clue when life started or how it started so all these theories are guesswork by guys who have nothing better to do.
Comment icon #7 Posted by Peter B 5 years ago
Well, scientists have more than a clue about when life started, as the article linked in the OP indicates, partly because of other factors such as the timing of the Late Heavy Bombardment. Sure, there aren't yet any clear answers about how life started, although there are a few theories. And these theories provide ideas about what the earliest evidence for life would look like. So it's wrong to say it's "guesswork" - they're making educated guesses. Dating rocks, for example, is these days a fairly uncontroversial part of palaeontology, so scientists can usually provide reasonably narrow limit... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by Ogbin 5 years ago
Was the Sun able to emit enough energy for Earth to sustain life 4 billion years ago?  
Comment icon #9 Posted by spud the mackem 5 years ago
I am only guessing but I would think that the Sun was much warmer 4 billion years ago, and the atmosphere would be nothing like it is today.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Noteverythingisaconspiracy 5 years ago
Actually the Sun was cooler in the beginning of the solar system, something like 70% of today, but as you say the Earths athmosphere was different back then and contained a lot more CO2 than today, and that would have helped to keep the Earth nice and warm. The Earth didn't have a breathable athmosphere until about 600 million years ago.
Comment icon #11 Posted by Mike Lansing 5 years ago
There are more clues than that. The Miller-Urey volcanic spark experiment of 1959 was reproduced at Livermore Labs. The first amino acids were, in order of abundance, especially dominated by glycine and beta-cyanoalanine. Glycine has unique folding capabilities, and the cyano moiety certainly contributed to oxygen-free respiration in these organisms. Proteins folding on the crusty edge of a volcano translates the geography precisely to the target zone:   www. for "The Volcanic Margins of the Northern Labrador Sea: Insights to the Rifting Process."


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